Saturday, November 17, 2007

Those Yellow Ribbons Really Aren't Helping

Around one in every ten adults in the United States are veterans of the military. But one out of every four homeless adults are veterans, according to a new study.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness, a public education nonprofit, based the findings of its report on numbers from Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau. 2005 data estimated that 194,254 homeless people out of 744,313 on any given night were veterans.

In comparison, the VA says that 20 years ago, the estimated number of veterans who were homeless on any given night was 250,000.

Some advocates say the early presence of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan at shelters does not bode well for the future. It took roughly a decade for the lives of Vietnam veterans to unravel to the point that they started showing up among the homeless. Advocates worry that intense and repeated deployments leave newer veterans particularly vulnerable.
This is not a new situation, but early indications are that it will be a major problem.

Veterans have a good chance of suffering from an array of mental illness, both from what their experiences in combat and their inability to readjust when they return. Veterans have a higher rate of substance abuse than the general population, and a higher rate of divorce, with nearly sixty thousand divorces attributed to the Iraq conflict alone. Study after study show higher rates of divorce and alcoholism among returning vets.

Guard and Reserve veterans who try to return to their civilian jobs find that they’ve lost their seniority, salary and benefits, and sometimes they’ve lost the job itself.

Veterans also have a higher rate of suicide than the civilian population. And more tellingly, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are also more likely to have survived a life-altering injury than almost any similar group in the past.
Limb-loss has occurred twice as often in Iraq as in any conflict of the past century, except for Vietnam, for which there are no good statistics. The 500 major amputations - toes and fingers aren't counted - represent 2.2% of the 22,700 U.S. troops wounded in action. But the number rises to 5% in the category of soldiers whose wounds prevent them returning to duty.
Now, with any study involving statistics, there’s going to be a certain amount of error. In fact, a report on NPR suggested that, since the military is often made up of working-class and lower-class males, and those are the very groups most likely to be homeless, that much of this study is simply a statistical anomaly. Unfortunately, the NPR piece was apparently written by someone who didn’t understand either demographics or statistics. Or, possibly, it was a propaganda piece written by someone who didn’t want to admit the problem exists.

When NPR says that the military is a pool of lower-income losers destined for the breadlines, it shows that they apparently didn’t read the report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Because if they had, they might have picked up on this little factoid.
Overall, veterans tend to be better off economically than nonveterans. The median income for male veterans is $34,617 compared to $31,308 for nonveterans. The difference is even bigger for female veterans, who earn $26,470 compared to their counterpart’s annual median income of $19,179. The poverty rate for veterans is 5.8 percent, but for nonveterans, it is 12.3 percent. Veterans also have a lower unemployment rate (5.5 percent) than their nonveteran counterparts (6.7 percent)
All of which leads to an obvious question. The White House is made up of people who studiously avoided military service (Dick Cheney got 5 deferments, and George Bush spent some undocumentable time in the National Guard, for example, so that neither one needed to go to Vietnam), and none of their family members are in the military. But they’ll cheerfully send other people’s children, undertrained and without armor, into a warzone. Then, if they get back to the States, the ones who stay in the military get shipped right back to the meat grinder, while the ones who get out find themselves ignored. So what, exactly, does the White House mean by the phrase "support the troops"?

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