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Monday, November 10, 2008

Remembering Our Homeless Veterans


Photo by Bill Wooten

Many people, and perhaps mothers in particular, have mixed feelings about Veterans Day. How can we honor the service and sacrifice of our men and women in the armed forces without glorifying the violence that is war?

Literature is full of stories of boys anxious to go to war for to fight for their country and cause, only to return broken and disheartened once they experience the horrors that await. The lucky veterans, men like my father, are able to integrate the experiences they had and readjust to life at peace, at home.

But many veterans are not so fortunate. While measuring homelessness is notoriously difficult, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 154,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, perhaps a third of all those without homes.

Many of these homeless veterans (up to 45 percent) suffer from mental and physical disabilities, which makes the path back to economic stability even more challenging.

The VA has instituted a number of programs for homeless veterans, but funding at the VA is always a challenge.

How can we help? The National Coalition for Homes Veterans makes these suggestions:
* Support emergency shelters – Donate personal care items, clothing (new underwear, socks and T-shirts are always needed) and food, or make cash contributions.

* Volunteer as mentors, counselors or legal aides – Homeless veterans in transitional or supportive permanent housing often need help with learning basic life and social skills, employment training and placement, mental health or substance abuse counseling, and help with legal problems.

* Raise funds for programs – Contact churches, civic and business groups, schools, and veterans service organizations for contributions, or a share of proceeds from community events. Large corporations in your area may agree to an employee matching program. Involve the local media to ensure benefactors are recognized for their support of America’s veterans.

* Volunteer at Stand Down programs – These are 2- to 3-day events that give homeless veterans a secure, community-like retreat to receive health care and personal hygiene services, food, clothing, housing and employment referrals, and VA benefits counseling – all in one location. For a list of upcoming Stand Down programs, click here.

* Develop Homeless Veteran Burial Programs – Several programs have been developed over the last few years to ensure that homeless veterans receive proper burial with military honors. Programs are collaborative efforts involving local medical examiners, hospitals, VA regional offices and funeral services providers. For information on a successful national program, visit www.dignitymemorial.com/HomelessVets.html.

In addition to showing our support and thanks by flying our flags and marching in our local parades, this year let's commit to making a better lives to those who sacrificed for ours.

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