Sunday, December 27, 2015

Veterans are actually underrepresented among the homeless.

An article in The Tennessean on December 22 reported on the status of the homeless in Nashville. Among the things reported in the piece was some demographic information telling us who the homeless are. Among homeless adults in Nashville, 11 percent are severely mentally ill, 29 percent are employed, 19 percent are victims of domestic violence, 12 percent are veterans, and 7 percent are HIV positive.

Thirteen percent of the US population are veterans so veterans are under represented among the homeless. Veterans are not underrepresented by much and statistics are not static and they are often  approximations with a margin of error, but veterans are certainly not over represented among the homeless.

I find this interesting because there seems to be a narrative and I think many people believe, most or at least a lot of the homeless are veterans. Part of this is caused by the homeless who as part of their panhandling appeal hold up signs that say, "U.S Veteran, Please Help," or something similar. There is no way to know if the person claiming to be a veteran is really a veteran, but it creates an impression.  Also, those raising money to help solve the problem of homelessness choose sympathetic representations of the homeless to help the effort.  People are more likely to contribute to help down and out veterans or children than they are crack-addicted whores.

I don't know that this narrative that says many of the homeless are veterans is carried out with a political agenda or not.  If it is to promote a political agenda, I am not sure what that agenda is. Also,
I don't know how many people believe it but I have heard people casually say things that leads me to believe that they believe a large number of the homeless are veterans. They believe that somehow as a nation we have failed our veterans.  On Facebook, people will post photos of homeless veterans with a statement such as, "as long as we have homeless veterans we should not admit any refugees," as if somehow their was a relationship between the two issues. They will also use homeless veterans as an excuse for not dealing with other issues as if homeless veterans ought to be of higher priority than any other issue.

I actually think our country does a pretty good job caring for veterans.  If they serve as little as 20 years they retire and get a very nice military pension. While serving, military personnel earn pretty good money now and should have some savings when they leave the military even it they do not make military service a career. Also veterans get benefits such as the G.I. bill to go to college and preferential mortgage terms through the VA. Wounded, or veterans who may have health issues resulting from agent orange or other toxic exposures or possibly suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome, often get pensions and the VA provides free medical care to veterans with a service connected disability.  I know there have been some problems with VA health care in some places, but I have a relative who is cared for at the Nashville VA hospital and has nothing but praise for his level of care. I have also heard others give good reports about local Veterans Hospital health care.

When thinking about veterans, anyone who served honorable in the armed forces is due respect. We should keep in mind however that being a veteran does not mean the veteran saw action in time of war. I would bet most veterans never served in a war. Some veterans had cushy jobs in interesting places and their service was no more stressful than going to the office every day and it may have only lasted two years.  I have nothing but respect for real warriors, but even among those who may have served in a war zone, more people performed support services than engaged in killing the enemy.  The Marine taking and holding territory was the exception, not the rule. 

I favor any charity that is reaching out to help homeless veterans.  There may be among those some who could qualify for a disability pension is they had an advocate. Some my be suffering from undiagnosed PTSD. We should help them.  We should not assume however that being a veteran is the cause of a veterans homelessness. Bad things may have happened to them or they may have made poor choices or became alcoholics or drug addicts and that may have had nothing to do with being a veteran. Just because someone was once a veteran it does not mean the government should protect and support them the rest of their lives. I suspect that of the 12 percent of the homeless who are veterans, they would be homeless anyway even if they were not veterans.

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