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When Vets Hunt for Vets

Homeless CampsiteMany Veterans, Especially the Homeless, Simply Avoid VA System” is the title of a story from KFBK NewsRadio in Northern California’s Placer County. The system is overloaded, says radiation oncologist Dr. Darryl Hunter, a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve. He founded and runs a nonprofit organization, the Sacramento Community Veterans Alliance, whose mission is to connect homeless vets with health care services, a process that starts with free checkups.

Dr. Hunter has said in the past that some Vietnam veterans were made to feel ashamed of the war in which they participated. Also, a large number of vets from all eras are simply unaware of the services available to them. Whatever the reasons, former military personnel are “disappearing in the shadows.”

Throughout the country, veterans seeking help for medical and/or psychological damage have faced so much obstruction and indifference that they have simply stopped trying. Many now prefer to steer clear of bureaucracies, and some purposely hide. Remember, these people were trained to endure hardship, to improvise, to live off the land, to conceal themselves. A lone veteran who does not want to be bothered can vanish much more successfully than, for instance, a civilian single parent with 3 or 4 kids.

Missing, Not in Action

Two years ago, Joe Leal told NBC News that in Southern California he has personally encountered thousands of homeless veterans – not just hard-core old-timers left over from the Vietnam era, but military personnel who served and were discharged post-9/11. His team of vets and active duty soldiers searches the canyons and underpasses, finding burn-out cases, both male and female, who are shockingly young.

Leal, an Iraq veteran, founded the privately-funded Vet Hunters Project, which since 2010 has placed more than 2,500 veterans in either temporary accommodations or permanent homes. The preparation offered by the government for transition from military life back to civilian is totally inadequate. There are even reservists, technically still on active duty, who are homeless. Leal is quoted:

A lot of the active-duty people are getting out even though they don’t have a plan. They’re so fed up after five to six deployments. They say, ‘I don’t care what I do when I get out, I’ll just figure it out when I get out, but I know I don’t want to do this any more.’ That’s what I’m running into.

House the Homeless previously called attention to the efforts of George Taylor, who searches the byways of Florida with the object of rescuing veterans.

Shad Meshad founded the National Veterans Foundation and is himself a retired medical officer. Under his guidance, teams comb the Los Angeles area twice a week, looking for the lost. Journalist Siri Srinivas writes:

Meshad says that the VA’s estimate of homeless veterans may be a mere fraction of the actual numbers – he speculates that veteran homelessness may be five times the problem that the VA acknowledges.

Housed people who do volunteer work or interact informally with the chronically homeless may form a vague suspicion that all the vets on the streets are not officially accounted for. But when professional experts believe that the veterans experiencing homelessness are chronically undercounted, the whole situation begins to look even more serious. Currently, the number in just one city, Los Angeles, is estimated to be around 6,000. How many is that? If you lived in L.A. and had time each day to meet with one homeless vet, and listen to his or her story, that number would supply you with 16+ years of daily coffee dates.

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Source: “Many Veterans, Especially the Homeless, Simply Avoid VA System, KFBK.com, undated
Source: “Fewer homeless vets this year, but advocacy group sees ‘alarming’ rise in younger ex-service members.” NBCNews.com, 12/10/12
Source: “’They don’t care’: how a homeless army veteran was forgotten by the VA,” TheGuardian.com, 11/11/14
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