Getting off the Metro at McPherson Square in DC, coming up the escalator to head to the office, I almost bumped into a man in a BDU jacket – with a small sign “Veteran, US Army, looking for work”. He was sitting with a group of other men, wearing bits and pieces of uniforms. I could see that he and the others lived there from the sleeping bags rolled out in a small alcove area, and the backpacks and plastic bags up against the wall. Around them rushed men in 3 piece suits, women in skirts and sneakers carrying their work heels. And then I realized, the entrance to Metro is under the Department of Veterans Affairs.
More than 130,000 homeless vets
The figures are stunning. The VA’s 2009 CHALENG report tabulates and calculates that there are over 107,000 veterans who are homeless on any given night. New reports put that figure at over 130,000, that one in three homeless are veterans. Add to these the numbers of veterans and their families who may have a roof over their heads, but may not have any food in the pantry. In this time of unemployment, veterans unemployment is greater in numbers and percentage than that of other men and women of the same age and education level. For whatever reason, veterans in this country are joining the ranks of those without homes, without jobs, without food and without hope.
There are a multitude of groups trying to reverse this trend. The large veterans groups such as the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans, the VFW and the newer IAVA and AWV groups all have programs designed to help veterans find housing, jobs, training and health care. The well-known “Stand Downs” that draw thousands for health care, meals, baths and clean clothes are in many cities and townsand have also spawned local and national support groups and even apps that are designed to help veterans apply for benefits or find a job or even to find a service or companion dog to help them overcome PTS or other problems.
Feed Our Vets
A group trying to help at the very ground level of support is Feed Our Vets. FOV is establishing pantries to help veterans obtain good nutritious food; to help them keep their families fed and preserve their dignity. With cuts to nutrition programs and food stamps, these families will be at more risk of hunger or lack of appropriate nutrition needed to stay healthy, to learn and grow; after all, many of these families include children! Many veterans are elderly, their pensions have suffered, Social Security isn’t enough, and some have a choice of whether to pay their bills for energy or housing, or to eat. Our community, the military community, wants to help our veterans, which will relieve the burden on community food shelves and pantries, freeing these resources to help others in need. . Taking care of our own is an ingrained habit of ours, but help is needed from all. These veterans and families deserve our respect and an outreached hand, a little help to get over a rough time until they can get back on their feet. That’s the point.
Photo from the National Guard