Sunday, January 20, 2008

As History Repeats Itself

One of the things that most distresses me during the current presidential campaign is that nobody is talking about the illegal, immoral, and misbegotten war in Iraq. The press has tamped down coverage, so the candidates don't feel obligated to bring that nasty issue up. Well, there are all sorts of problems on the horizon, some of them "economic" issues, and many of them can be traced back to the Iraq War.

One of the most heartbreaking problems has to do with the newly homeless among Iraq War veterans. I've seen for the past 30 years what Viet Nam did to a generation of men, and I'm beginning to see the same thing all over again. Yet very few people are willing to talk about it. Here is an AP article (which I didn't see picked up by any of the major news outlets this morning) about the phenomenon.

This is not a new story in America: A young veteran back from war whose struggle to rejoin society has failed, at least for the moment, fighting demons and left homeless.

But it is happening to a new generation. As the war in Afghanistan plods on in its seventh year, and the war in Iraq in its fifth, a new cadre of homeless veterans is taking shape.

And with it come the questions: How is it that a nation that became so familiar with the archetypal homeless, combat-addled Vietnam veteran is now watching as more homeless veterans turn up from new wars?

What lessons have we not learned? Who is failing these people? Or is homelessness an unavoidable byproduct of war, of young men and women who devote themselves to serving their country and then see things no man or woman should?

For now, about 1,500 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have been identified by the Department of Veterans Affairs. About 400 of them have taken part in VA programs designed to target homelessness.

The 1,500 are a small, young segment of an estimated 336,000 veterans in the United States who were homeless at some point in 2006, the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Still, advocates for homeless veterans use words like "surge" and "onslaught" and even "tsunami" to describe what could happen in the coming years, as both wars continue and thousands of veterans struggle with post-traumatic stress.
[Emphasis added]

PTSD is one of the leading causes for homelessness among veterans. So is substance abuse, although I suspect a lot of that abuse is an attempt at self-medication from the horrors of combat. How do we care for these men and women? Not very well, at least up to this point. And I don't foresee the Department of Veteran Affairs having the funding or the mandate to do much, again, at this point.

The "surge" and "tsunami" has yet to hit, but it surely will. Most experts agree that the PTSD the current warriors face is complicated further by the multiple deployments, extended tours in theater, and the fact of the omnipresence of IEDs which makes for no safe space for those deployed. The result is that we will be dealing with this problem for the next forty years, even as we are still dealing with the casualties of Viet Nam today.

Yet no one is talking about it. No one seems moved to make it an issue, if not the issue of this race.

I just don't get it.

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