What is it to return home for a Veteran?
There is the “glory” of having taken part in something greater than oneself and being celebrated for service to an entire nation. I place “glory” between quotation marks because veterans’ humility reaches far beyond our comprehension.
There is the transformation that has inevitably taken place within; the men and women who return from tours of duty are never the same as when they left. They have seen and experienced too much to ever truly pick up where they left off.
Though we admire them and can, to some degree, appreciate their sacrifice, we can never grasp all that a person has become on the inside or on the outside. It is even more difficult to grasp that many return to an empty, homeless life.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that, on any given night, there are 107,000 homeless veterans in our nation. Consider this: while veterans constitute about 8 % of the general population, 20 % of the homeless are veterans.
How is this possible? According to VA, “In addition to the complex set of factors influencing all homelessness… a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks.”
This certainly does not imply that the VA does not support returning troupes. Rather, it points to the fact that far more needs to be done than what is currently possible from the one organization. “VA’s specialized homeless programs served more than 92,000 veterans in 2009… this still leaves well over 100,000 more veterans, however, who experience homelessness annually and must seek assistance from local government agencies, community and faith-based service organizations.” In reality, millions of veterans have characteristics and circumstances that require supportive services outside the scope of VA homeless programs.
We are a nation of shapers and shakers. As with any other experience affecting our community, neighbors, families and entire nation, it is when we become aware of the inequities and incongruities of life that we have the ability to make new choices that affect change. Often, the most remarkable changes occur as a result of local ideas and local actions. Here is what the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) suggests:
- Determine the need in your own community
- Align yourself with others who are interested in this issue
- Participate in local homeless coalitions
- Make a donation to a local homeless veteran provider
- Speak with your elected officials
That any veteran should return to life on the streets is beyond comprehension in a nation where we value family, independence, possessions and the ultimate embodiment of these: a home to call one’s own.