There shouldn’t be a further sacrifice.
November 11, 2010 § 2 Comments
“We come together to pay tribute to the men and women who have worn the uniform …[and]…have preserved our way of life with unwavering patriotism and quiet courage…ours is a debt of honor to care for them and their families.” A Proclamation by President Obama, Veterans Day, 2010.
It’s common knowledge our men and women in uniform return home facing enormous challenges: recovering from severe injuries; coping with disabilities; suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety; and accessing the care they need. In turn, families – having adjusted to the deployment(s) of their loved ones – also have to adjust to their return. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and the United Health Foundation, 70 percent of veterans’ caregivers are spouses or partners who report high stress levels and physical side effects.
Hundreds of thousands of veterans don’t have even the most basic support. The National Alliance to End Homelessness and Homeless Research Institute found a disproportionate share of homeless people are veterans. In 2006, nearly 200,000 veterans were homeless on any given night. Forty-three percent of veterans were receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) benefits.
Given the effects of the Great Recession, I’m sure the realities of homelessness and hunger are much worse and more widespread today.
My boss, Hank Perret, interim president and CEO, is a Vietnam-era veteran who served in the Army. Earlier this morning, we discussed his experience. When I told Hank about the 2006 homeless and SNAP use statistics, I expected him to be incredulous. He wasn’t. “These problems go back further than Vietnam. Now we’re seeing the data.”
Hank and I talked about our own Food Bank. He remarked, “Food banks can be a stop gap for veterans and their families, and we can help educate them about SNAP benefits. I’m glad we’re here, but the very fact that veterans need our help after exchanging their safety for ours is a shame. We’re in the middle of two wars, with men and women coming home, unable to cope, and needing help. When a soldier is back on American soil, the war isn’t suddenly over. And soldiers sleeping on the streets and feeling the pain of hunger? There shouldn’t be a further sacrifice, and we have ourselves to blame.”
I have a good friend who is a Gulf War-era veteran. He served in the Navy. Years later, Troy is successful and an accomplished triathlete. I wanted his take on the challenges homeless and hungry veterans face. Here’s what he told me:
“It’s outrageous. In my own experience, leaving the military — after having spent all of my post-high school years there — and finding very little by way of job search and ‘get started’ support was difficult enough. But I was fortunate enough to have the support of my family and never went without food. I can’t imagine the abandonment I would have felt if I’d been forced to deal with that. Service men and women turn over the keys of their lives to meet the security needs of our country, and to reward that type of selflessness by neglecting them is unconscionable. At the very least, we owe them the means to meet their most basic needs. What’s more basic than food and a place to live?”
I’ve written several posts about nourishment being essential to uphold human dignity. Everyone deserves to eat – men, women, children, older adults, families, people, anyone, everyone, and our country’s veterans.
It is a privilege to honor the women and men who have sacrificed for our country throughout its history and are doing so this very moment. Our President is right: We must care for them.
Correction November 12, 2010.