This article found on comcast.net from AP describes a growing problem.
For as long as the United States has sent its young men – and later its young women – off to war, it has watched as a segment of them come home and lose the battle with their own memories, their own scars, and wind up without homes.
The Civil War produced thousands of wandering veterans. Frequently addicted to morphine, they were known as “tramps,” searching for jobs and, in many cases, literally still tending their wounds.
More than a decade after the end of World War I, the “Bonus Army” descended on Washington – demanding immediate payment on benefits that had been promised to them, but payable years later – and were routed by the U.S. military.
And, most publicly and perhaps most painfully, there was Vietnam: Tens of thousands of war-weary veterans, infamously rejected or forgotten by many of their own fellow citizens.
Now it is happening again, in small but growing numbers.
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.
People who have studied postwar trauma say there is always a lengthy gap between coming home – the time of parades and backslaps and “The Boys Are Back in Town” on the local FM station – and the moments of utter darkness that leave some of them homeless.
In that time, usually a period of years, some veterans focus on the horrors they saw on the battlefield, or the friends they lost, or why on earth they themselves deserved to come home at all. They self-medicate, develop addictions, spiral down.
How – or perhaps the better question is why – is this happening again?
“I really wish I could answer that question,” says Anthony Belcher, an outreach supervisor at New Directions, which conducts monthly sweeps of Skid Row in Los Angeles, identifying homeless veterans and trying to help them get over addictions.
“It’s the same question I’ve been asking myself and everyone around me. I’m like, wait, wait, hold it, we did this before. I don’t know how our society can allow this to happen again.”
Mental illness, financial troubles and difficulty in finding affordable housing are generally accepted as the three primary causes of homelessness among veterans, and in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, the first has raised particular concern.
Iraq veterans are less likely to have substance abuse problems but more likely to suffer mental illness, particularly post-traumatic stress, according to the Veterans Administration. And that stress by itself can trigger substance abuse.
Some advocates say there are also some factors particular to the Iraq war, like multiple deployments and the proliferation of improvised explosive devices, that could be pulling an early trigger on stress disorders that can lead to homelessness.
While many Vietnam veterans began showing manifestations of stress disorders roughly 10 years after returning from the front, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have shown the signs much earlier.
That could also be because stress disorders are much better understood now than they were a generation ago, advocates say.
“There’s something about going back, and a third and a fourth time, that really aggravates that level of stress,” said Michael Blecker, executive director of Swords to Plowshares,” a San Francisco homeless-vet outreach program.
“And being in a situation where you have these IEDs, everywhere’s a combat zone. There’s no really safe zone there. I think that all is just a stew for post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Others point to something more difficult to define, something about American culture that – while celebrating and honoring troops in a very real way upon their homecoming – ultimately forgets them.
This is not necessarily due to deliberate negligence. Perhaps because of the lingering memory of Vietnam, when troops returned from an unpopular war to face open hostility, many Americans have taken care to express support for the troops even as they solidly disapprove of the war in Iraq.
But it remains easy for veterans home from Iraq for several years, and teetering on the edge of losing a job or home, to slip into the shadows. And as their troubles mount, they often feel increasingly alienated from friends and family members.
“War changes people,” says John Driscoll, vice president for operations and programs at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. “Your trust in people is strained. You’ve been separated from loved ones and friends. The camaraderie between troops is very extreme, and now you feel vulnerable.”
The meta-analysis on PTSD 2008 had one conclusion that there was a paucity of studies done with veterans. One could argue this to some degree, but let me say there have been few studies funded by NIH and the VA that had enough money to be thorough for combat ptsd. More had been done for children, but the false memory people are still being well paid despite losing court battles.
PTSD itself had no publication devoted to it until 1985, so of course the ins and outs of what it is are in its infancy (concerning clinical studies). On the other hand, we know some very basic human needs are involved from a long historical experiment.