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Hope for Lost Vets

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News November 2013

"What can I do about it?"

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I’m taking a chance and doing something different this month.

I’ve always tried to advocate for paralyzed veterans, especially being a member of Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). However, I’m frequently concerned about other vulnerable populations of veterans, such as those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and especially the homeless.

I’ve learned from my own experience that my condition isn’t the worst in the world and there are plenty of people worse off. Some are paralyzed, however, many aren’t. I’ve asked myself, ‘what can I do about it?’ This article is my response.

More Than Capable

We should never allow our conditions in life to prevent us from attempting to aid others in need. In fact, I say it’s incumbent upon us as a people to have a greater concern for others than for ourselves. 

We know what suffering feels like and we’ve experienced recovery. Many of us understand addiction to painkillers, antidepressants, nightmares, fear, anger and my favorite, hopelessness. We’re more than capable of meeting other veterans in need, or anyone in need for that matter, with understanding and empathy. 

As I watched the news coverage of those injured in the Boston Marathon bombing, I wished I was at the hospital. I wanted to meet and connect with those patients; let them know someone knew exactly how they felt and could help them find their way back.

I know we didn’t spend our years defending Americans just so we could sit back here at home and watch them suffer. That is something I refuse to believe.

Stuck Like Our Veterans

There are many reasons why our men and women don’t use Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) services and benefits. One major reason is because they didn’t do a proper checkout when they left the service.

Upon discharge, men and women are given the opportunity to be briefed on the VA’s benefits and capabilities. And yet, sometimes 20 years after discharge, veterans are discovered homeless. Some have children and many have little to no knowledge that help is available.

We put out pamphlets, produce TV commercials, distribute loads of information via our armed services representatives and still struggle with homeless vets.

According to data from January 2012 released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, more than 62,600 veterans were homeless. I stand with the VA in saying “even one veteran without safe and stable housing is one too many.”

Thankfully, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, (D-N.Y.), has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that will aid not only the homeless, but also the homeless veteran.

However, it’s stuck in committee and destined to die, just like some of our veterans stuck out in the street.

Sending Them Help

The Mobile Medical Homeless Health Improvement Act (HR 29) is the best available method of reaching our homeless veterans.

The bill provides a grant to local hospitals to create a mobile medical unit that can provide case management, primary medical care and screenings, behavioral and mental health care, immunizations and triage. 

The Mobile Medical Homeless Health Improvement Act offers a number of benefits for homeless vets and civilians:

- Identifies homeless veterans and refers them to the nearest VA office

- Provides for early identification of the most vulnerable of the homeless and secures emergency shelter and appropriate services

- Grants immediate and preventative medical care to the homeless

- Identifies those in need of mental health services

- Clears space in VA and civilian hospital ERs and increases customer service efficiency

- Saves hospitals money

One Too Many

Four main reasons are widely accepted for homelessness: poverty, rising housing costs, unemployment and lowering wages and an inadequate safety net. The only one this bill doesn’t address is the rising cost of housing.

Other issues are domestic violence, criminal re-entry issues, substance abuse and behavioral issues. Do I really need to explain how many veterans out there have these problems?

Our veterans are living without shelter and finally someone in government has developed a workable solution, while the bill lies in committee, alone and forgotten.

This act not only addresses the needs of our homeless population, but we can also locate our wayward veterans, bring them into the VA and give them the mental health treatment, job training and housing assistance they’ve been missing.

Pick up your phones and call the national PVA office as well as your congressmen and senators. Let them know one veteran lying out there alone and forgotten, is one veteran too many.

 

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Hope for Lost Vets

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