Think About Our Veterans More Than Once a Year
Homeless Veterans An Underreported Issue
We Should Not Forget All Veterans - Yet Sometimes, We Do
There continue to be thousands of veterans living on the streets of North America.
Though the number is underreported because the population is so transient - and largely rests on numbers from reports of emergency shelters across Canada or the United States (depending on which country is doing the reporting). There are many veterans who might be living in their car or crashing on a buddy's couch, and these veterans are part of a population that would not necessarily be counted.
According to "Highlights of the National Shelter Study 2005-2014," 2.2 percent of those staying in homeless shelters - an estimated 2,950 people - reported having previously served in the military. This is higher than the 2,250 people estimated to be staying in homeless shelters in The Extent And Nature Of Veteran Homelessness In Canada, a report commissioned by Employment and Social Development Canada.
I don't mean to state the obvious, but this is completely unacceptable.
There are still veterans who struggle with the after-effects of combat or even training. Accidents can occur during training that can result in injuries to men and women in uniform that they carry with them for a lifetime. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a very real condition that can go months or years without a proper diagnosis or treatment, and while soldiers and their families wait anxiously for some sort of news about progress towards helping their loved ones live their lives while coping with what can be a crippling condition, they also have to wait in line for therapy, often for months.
According to The Nature Of Things, Canada has the highest prevalence of PTSD in its population, with 9.2 percent of Canadians estimated to get PTSD at some point in their lifetimes. Veterans Affairs Canada reports that 18 percent of the retired Canadian Armed Forces and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) members received a disability benefit for a mental health condition. Of that percentage, 73 percent received the disability benefit specifically for PTSD. There are also, according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs,
- Almost 31 percent of Vietnam War veterans
- As many as 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans
- 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan
- 20 percent of Iraqi War veterans
who all have been affected by PTSD.
While many seek treatment, the wait times involved are discouraging and sometimes the bureaucracy involved in trying to obtain treatment is no less discouraging. There are veterans who are so plagued by PTSD or who are so lost without the structure the military provided that civilian life can often be a significant challenge. While not every veteran has done this, there are those that have turned to ways to "numb" themselves in order to survive daily life. There are also those who have sought ways to find new excitement outside of the military because without the challenges and rigors that military life brought, life simply does not feel the same for some.
Certainly, not every veteran has felt this way, but there are those that do, and sometimes, the chosen coping strategies don't always work. As a result, there are countless veterans in Canada and North America who use emergency shelters or the goodwill of friends to survive if they can. As a result, programs such as Leave The Streets Behind from the Canadian Legion or Veterans Emergency Transitions Services (VETS) Canada have sprung up, hoping to address the significant issue of homeless veterans in Canada. In the United States, there is a joint effort through the US Department of Veterans' Affairs and Housing and Urban Development called HUD-VASH. This supportive housing program offers veterans rental vouchers to help them get back on their feet, provided the veterans meet certain criteria. There is also the Supportive Services for Veterans' Families program that if veterans meet the criteria, they can access the services.
The fact that we even need programs like these in North America should stun us all. The men and women accessing these programs served (and in some cases, try to continue to serve) in the military, and due to bureaucracy, an inability to access appropriate health care or even a lack of knowledge that health care is required they continue to struggle. That's unacceptable. These are people who have fought for our freedoms, and who were proud to serve, and yet, they are continuing to fight for survival. We need to offer support to these veterans or services that help support veterans so that they can continue to thrive, not make it challenging for them to access the services they need so they can live life in relative peace.
We need to do better for our veterans - at all levels of society.