Friday, May 1, 2009

Patriots Without a Home

By Ezra Dreiblatt

Since the Iraq war began on March 13, 2003, it has claimed the lives of over 4,000 American soldiers. While these soldiers died as heroes and will be remembered as such, there is a larger group of soldiers who survived Iraq and are now homeless. These former soldiers are largely forgotten as the media focuses its attention on the economy, foreign policy, and the everyday goings on in Washington.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, there are currently 154,000 homeless veterans on any given night in the United States. Currently, Iraq war veterans make up around 3,000 of the homeless veteran population. While the majority of the homeless veterans served in the Vietnam War, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans reports that the number of Iraq war veterans who are homeless is growing at a rate equal to the rate of homelessness that Vietnam created.

There are many reasons why so many of our bravest have found themselves on the street after serving our country in Iraq. The majority of our Iraqi homeless veterans are single males. This implies that for the most part, they do not have a loving supportive family waiting for them when they come back. If they do have loved ones waiting for them, many of them are so damaged physically and emotionally that they shun their loved ones and alienate their friends. Another main reason for this serious problem is that many of the soldiers coming back from Iraq suffer from mental or substance abuse problems. Around half of the Iraq war homeless veterans either suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or suffer from alcohol or drug abuse according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. This is due to the fact that the majority of these homeless veterans served for three or more years in Iraq. On top of that, the majority of them served in the field in some of the most dangerous cities in Iraq.

According to Karen Tollin, a representative from the New York branch of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, “the main problem is that our Department of Veterans Affairs does not have the funds to help these soldiers who are damaged emotionally.” She went on to say that too often money to help veterans who have PTSD or substance abuse problems is lost in the shuffle on the House floor as the Congress people argue over partisan issues. A representative of the United States Department of Veteran Affairs said that while he could not comment on the goings on in Congress, he could say that money and help is given to veterans suffering both mentally and physically when they return home. However, advocates for homeless veterans say that not enough money and help is given to soldiers returning from war.

While this plight of homeless veterans from Iraq and other wars is a national issue, it is a particular problem in New York City as well as New Jersey. According to Ms. Tollin, there are currently around 500 homeless veterans in New York City and the surrounding area including New Jersey. She attributed this to the fact that many of the veterans coming back to New York and New Jersey cannot handle the “hustle and bustle” and noise that the city provides. She also stressed that many of the soldiers coming from New York City are from lower income households and therefore have even more obstacles in front of them than just their mental or substance problems.

This was backed up by Kris Goldsmith, an Iraq war veteran who travels the country talking about his experiences in Iraq and his struggles with PTSD. While Kris had a supportive family to return to in New York, he said that some of his friends did not have the same financial or familial stability when they returned home.

With the start of a new administration and the recession that this country is in, many small yet important issues have been pushed off the front pages. On cable news, ideology and ego gets in the way of talking about the veterans coming home who are being forgotten by the VA. How is it that an issue that should be so bipartisan still gets caught up partisan bickering? These veterans need the help of the United States Government as well as the citizens of this country so that they can finally get back on their feet.

Ezra Dreiblatt is a sophomore at Rutgers University. He is majoring in Journalism and Media Studies with a minor in American Studies. A native of New York City, Ezra plans to pursue a career in sports journalism.

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