Americans lack awareness of homeless veterans

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The Iraq war is just months away from its fifth anniversary. As March 19 draws near, the U.S. is faced with several burdens regarding the conflict. Tragically, one of these burdens comes in the form of homeless veterans on U.S. streets.

I remember passing one of these unknown heroes while returning from a forensics trip in September 2007. When traveling through Oklahoma, I caught sight of an individual sitting on the side of the road with only the clothes on his back, a few bags and a sign that read, “One homeless veteran trying to find his way home.”

The saddest thing about it was that it was not the first time I had seen a homeless veteran.

A source of embarrassment to our nation’s integrity has always been the number of homeless individuals on the streets. A recent estimate by the National Alliance to End Homelessness reported roughly 700,000 people in the United States are homeless. Unfortunately, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated roughly 200,000 of these men and women are veterans of our armed forces, making up more than one-fourth of this forgotten population.

After serving overseas, many veterans undergo the re-conditioning of the home front. Many of them are forced to combat a number of obstacles regarding their personal well-being, namely post-traumatic stress disorder. However, some fall short when it comes to achieving these goals.

Take the story of Herold Noel. On April 15, 2007, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Noel, after returning home from Iraq in 2004, became homeless while waiting for his disability checks from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Noel would eventually go on to tell his story in the documentary “When I Came Home,” but only after battling alcoholism, a suicide attempt and post-traumatic stress disorder.

There are countless reasons why men like Noel end up in such situations. However, one of the biggest reasons for homelessness among soldiers is the lack of resources.

Paul Rieckhoff explained in his 2006 article “Homeless Heroes,” on Military.com, that some veterans are not getting the support they need because the Department of Veteran Affairs is underfunded.

“Despite outcry from every major veterans’ organization in America, funding for the VA is still not mandatory,” said Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Fortunately, we live in a generation that provides care and best wishes for its soldiers serving overseas. But as you can see, more needs to be done. There is nothing more honorable than for young Americans to willingly go overseas and risk losing their lives for their country.

Survival is nothing short of a blessing. But if you ask anyone with common sense, there is nothing more tragic than when someone returns home to conditions of abject poverty and hardship.

The U.S. owes it to its veterans to ensure they have the best of care and stability for all they have been through.

Many are still giving their service. It is time for us to give back.

Grady Bolding is a junior in theater. Please send comments to opinion@spub.ksu.edu.

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