U.S. veterans from the war in Iraq are beginning to show up at homeless shelters around the country, and advocates fear they are the leading edge of a new generation of homeless vets not seen since the Vietnam era.
Arellano said he felt pushed out of the military too quickly after getting back from Iraq without medical attention he needed for his hand -- and as he would later learn, his mind.
"It was more of a rush. They put us in a warehouse for a while. They treated us like cattle," Arellano said about how the military treated him on his return to the United States.
"It is all about numbers. Instead of getting quality care, they were trying to get everybody demobilized during a certain time frame. If you had a problem, they said, 'Let the (Department of Veterans Affairs) take care of it.'"
The Pentagon has acknowledged some early problems and delays in treating soldiers returning from Iraq but says the situation has been fixed.
Nearly 300,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, and almost half served during the Vietnam era, according to the Homeless Veterans coalition, a consortium of community-based homeless-veteran service providers. While some experts have questioned the degree to which mental trauma from combat causes homelessness, a large number of veterans live with the long-term effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse, according to the coalition.
Some homeless-veteran advocates fear that similar combat experiences in Vietnam and Iraq mean that these first few homeless veterans from Iraq are the crest of a wave.
Advocates said seeing homeless veterans from Iraq should cause alarm. Around one-fourth of all homeless Americans are veterans, and more than 75 percent of them have some sort of mental or substance abuse problem, often PTSD, according to the Homeless Veterans coalition.
More troubling, experts said, is that mental problems are emerging as a major casualty cluster, particularly from the war in Iraq where the enemy is basically everywhere and blends in with the civilian population, and death can come from any direction at any time.
"You probably have close to 10 times the access points for service than you did 30 years ago," Dougherty said. "We may be catching a lot of these folks who are coming back with mental illness or substance abuse" before they become homeless in the first place. Dougherty said the VA serves around 100,000 homeless veterans each year.
But Boone's group says that nearly 500,000 veterans are homeless at some point in any given year, so the VA is only serving 20 percent of them.
This ongoing lack of concern for veterans totally pisses me off.
In a related story which I here lift in toto from SouthKnoxBubba:
Anthony Principi is quitting his post as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. I feel for the guy. He's a decorated Vietnam combat vet (he was in the Navy and commanded a River Patrol Unit on the Mekong Delta while Bush was protecting that Alabama mail room from the Viet Cong Air Force, which sounds familiar for some reason) who I think was trying to make the best of a difficult political situation.
Or, as he put it when he was asked back in June of 2003 if he would stay on for a second Bush term: "...like many of my colleagues, we all grow tired, in the sense of, not tired of our work, but tired of what we're called upon to do."
I hope Principi has the balls to tell us why the VA wasn't ready for this shit. I know it's not good to pray for bad things to happen, but I pray that Bush&Co. don't have to wait 'til they croak to get their just rewards. I want to see it.