This is an interesting article from the Associated Press. We are noticing some of the same issues in Buffalo and Erie County.
Wars produce new homeless vets
Some question whether U.S.got message from Vietnam
By Erin McClam – ASSOCIATED PRESS
Updated: 01/20/08 6:52 AM
LEEDS, Mass. – Peter Mohan traces his path from the Iraqi battlefield to this lifeless conference room, where he sits in a kilt and a Camp Kill Yourself T-shirt and calmly describes how he became a homeless veteran.
After a happy homecoming came an accident – car crash, broken collarbone. And then a move east, close to his wife’s new job but away from his best friends.
Then self-destruction: He would gun his motorcycle to 100 mph and try to stand on the seat. He would wait for his wife to leave in the morning, draw the blinds and open up whatever bottle of booze was closest.
He would pull out his gun, a .45-caliber, semiautomatic pistol. He would lovingly clean it, or just look at it and put it away. Sometimes he would place it in his mouth.
“I don’t know what to do anymore,” his wife, Anna, told him one day. “You can’t be here anymore.”
Peter Mohan never did find a steady job after he left Iraq. He lost his wife – a judge granted their divorce this fall – and he lost his friends, and he lost his home, and now he is here, in a shelter.
He is 28 years old. “People come back from war different,” he said.
This is not a new story: 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. With the war in Afghanistan plodding into its seventh year and the war in Iraq in its fifth, a new cadre of homeless veterans is taking shape.
With it come the questions: How is it that a nation that became so familiar with the 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?
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 and their own scars, then 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, after Vietnam came tens of thousands of war-weary veterans, infamously rejected or forgotten by many of their own fellow citizens. Now it is happening again.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has identified about 1,500 homeless veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. About 400 of them have taken part in VA programs designed to target homelessness.
People who have studied postwar trauma point to a lengthy gap between coming home and the moments of utter darkness that leave some veterans 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?
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 posttraumatic stress, according to the Veterans Administration. And that stress by itself can trigger substance abuse.
Some advocates also cite 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 posttraumatic stress disorder.”
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