masyhead

The Cur­rent Year is 6263


Army of one

In the annals of shame and hypocrisy, few things match America’s duplic­ity toward its vet­er­ans.

For their trou­bles, they earn lip ser­vice from politi­cians, are allowed to board some air­planes first, receive a few bucks off at restau­rants and, once a year, get their own hol­i­day on which every­body expresses sup­port for them. They are also hon­ored at sport­ing events in cer­e­monies that, despite appear­ances, are actu­ally paid for with tax­payer dol­lars.

But step away from these feel-​good exer­cises, and you get a bucket of cold water in your face. Let’s take a frank look at the seri­ous prob­lems that vet­er­ans are fac­ing every day — and what is or isn’t being done about them.
Home­less­ness



A dis­pro­por­tion­ate share of vet­er­ans are home­less. While the total num­ber of home­less vet­er­ans has decreased in recent years, there are still 50,000 of them on any given night.

Esti­mates vary on how much it would cost on aver­age to get a home­less per­son off the street. A con­ser­v­a­tive esti­mate is about $20,000. That means it would cost $1 bil­lion to house every sin­gle home­less vet­eran — a sum less than 0.2 per­cent of the defense bud­get.
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A photo by Brad Rach­ford, Inde­pen­dence KY, U.S. Marine Corps, Gulf War Era. Part of a VA image con­test to help raise aware­ness for Home­less­ness Vet­er­ans. Photo credit: VA​.GOV.

Some com­par­a­tive fig­ures:

• A sin­gle Vir­ginia – class sub­ma­rine costs more than pro­vid­ing hous­ing to every sin­gle home­less vet­eran for two years.

• More than 200 com­pa­nies on the cur­rent For­tune 500 list have prof­its in excess of $1 bil­lion.

• The same NFL teams that reg­u­larly pocket Defense Depart­ment money to spon­sor “patri­otic” trib­utes to vet­er­ans are now build­ing (often taxpayer-​funded) sta­di­ums that rou­tinely cost more than $1 bil­lion each.

Not only is the cur­rent neglect of home­less vet­er­ans uncon­scionable, there is actu­ally a less expen­sive, and more humane, way to deal with the prob­lem. By imple­ment­ing this novel approach — giv­ing the home­less homes — the state of Utah has all but elim­i­nated chronic home­less­ness.
Sui­cides

Vet­er­ans com­mit sui­cide at a much higher rate than civil­ians. Accord­ing to Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Affairs (VA) data, approx­i­mately 8000 vet­er­ans will kill them­selves this year — that’s 22 sui­cides a day. The actual num­ber may even be higher because the ser­vice record of many sui­cide vic­tims isn’t known.

If the under­grad­u­ates study­ing at Yale would begin killing them­selves at the same rate as vet­er­ans, there would be none left after eight months.

Despite these appalling fig­ures, there are some encour­ag­ing signs in this area. Ear­lier this year, Con­gress unan­i­mously passed the Clay Hunt Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion for Amer­i­can Vet­er­ans Act. This leg­is­la­tion requires inde­pen­dent reviews of sui­cide pre­ven­tion pro­grams admin­is­tered by the VA and the Pen­ta­gon. It also man­dates the cre­ation of a web­site that pro­vides vet­er­ans with infor­ma­tion about men­tal health ser­vices.

How­ever, many vet­er­ans and their advo­cates believe the prob­lem can­not be solved with money and new pro­grams.

“To address the cri­sis of vet­er­ans’ sui­cide, we need to rethink how we rein­te­grate vet­er­ans into civil­ian soci­ety after their ser­vice,” for­mer Army Ranger Sean Par­nell wrote in the Mil­i­tary Times. “Far too many vet­er­ans return home, often from high-​stakes, high-​stress com­bat sit­u­a­tions, only to find them­selves ignored, mis­un­der­stood and alien­ated from their fel­low Amer­i­cans. In short, we don’t have a pol­icy short­fall — we have a cul­tural short­fall.”

A major part of the prob­lem is that many vet­er­ans return from war with invis­i­ble injuries.
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PTSD

An eye-​popping 138,197 cases of Post-​Traumatic Stress Dis­or­der (PTSD) have been diag­nosed among troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq through the mid­dle of this year. In com­par­i­son, among non-​deployed sol­diers, 39,264 PTSD cases were diag­nosed in the same time. How­ever, a study by the RAND Cor­po­ra­tion esti­mates that the actual num­ber of cases is much higher. It puts the fig­ure at about 20 per­cent of those who were deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. That would mean there are more than half a mil­lion vet­er­ans from those wars who suf­fer PTSD.

That is well more than the pop­u­la­tion of Atlanta.

Unfor­tu­nately, half of the vet­er­ans who suf­fer from PTSD do not seek treat­ment and those who do often get min­i­mal care. The inci­dence of PTSD could be a major rea­son for the high num­ber of sui­cides.

But vet­er­ans are not just harm­ing them­selves. They also make up 10 per­cent of death row inmates, accord­ing to a study released on Tues­day.

PTSD and its rela­tion­ship to vio­lence is a dicey sub­ject for the mil­i­tary. After all, who wants to admit that those who are asked to kill abroad are going to be a prob­lem for soci­ety when they return?

“Indi­vid­u­als with PTSD are not dan­ger­ous. Although PTSD is asso­ci­ated with an increased risk of vio­lence, the major­ity of Vet­er­ans and non-​Veterans with PTSD have never engaged in vio­lence,” the VA says. “When other fac­tors like alco­hol and drug mis­use, addi­tional psy­chi­atric dis­or­ders, or younger age are con­sid­ered, the asso­ci­a­tion between PTSD and vio­lence is decreased.”

How­ever, the VA also acknowl­edges that those with PTSD are also more likely to use alco­hol, so there is a rela­tion. Untreated PTSD also leads to increased drug use, accord­ing to the RAND Cor­po­ra­tion.

Unfor­tu­nately for vet­er­ans, they have had prob­lems get­ting the care they need. Last year, the Vet­er­ans Health Admin­is­tra­tion (VHA) was mired in a scan­dal after an inter­nal audit deter­mined that 35 vet­er­ans in the Phoenix VHA sys­tem died while wait­ing for care.

While the VHA has made strides in improv­ing access to care, the Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­ity Office (GAO) said in a report last month that more must be done with regard to pro­vid­ing access to men­tal health ser­vices.

GAO noted that the VHA had spent $3.9 bil­lion to pro­vide out­pa­tient spe­cialty men­tal health care, but that the increase of vet­er­ans in need of such care has out­paced the increase of staff pro­vid­ing it.

On this Vet­er­ans Day — the 15th since the inva­sion of Afghanistan — it is clear that vet­er­ans par­tic­i­pat­ing in the two most recent wars are still fac­ing great chal­lenges upon their return.

In order to help them find nor­mal lives back home, they need much more than empty trib­utes at sport­ing events and a free cup of cof­fee once a year.


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