Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Column 127 – Homeless Veterans

Over Memorial Day weekend we took the opportunity to honor veterans and serving military. The Biltmore did a great job of hosting the honors, and the Red, White, and Tahoe Blue celebrations around Independence Day will continue to salute those who have served and are serving. Even those of us who opposed some of the wars in which they fought and are fighting are careful not to confuse opposing the war with opposing the warriors and join in the salute.


Sheila Leijon of IVGID, the Parasol Foundation, Jim Peterson, Roger Leach, and others have done a great job of locating local veterans and making sure they have the opportunity to participate in these events. If you are a veteran and have not been contacted you should make sure to be in touch with them.


That's the several hundred veterans here in Incline Village/Crystal Bay. But there is another group of vets that need our concern. By the best accounts, there are about 1200 homeless veterans in Reno. That's right, one thousand two hundred men and women who served and are now down and out. Since the Vietnam War, rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been steadily increasing and PTSD rates from the Iraq Conflict are at an all-time high. PTSD is not new – after World War I it was called "shell shock" and was well known. There was no name that I recall after World War II, but it was recognized that those who were in combat had seen things no one should have to see and done things that left them permanently scarred. We cared for those folks and helped them deal with their return to civilian life.


Unfortunately the end of the Vietnam War coincided with a number of political and economic events, notably beginning with Prop 13 in California, that had the effect of reducing social services and closing down many psychiatric facilities. As a result, and also as a result of widespread revulsion at some of the things that happened in Vietnam (and a tragic failure to remember that it was the war, not the warriors we were against), Vietnam-era vets didn't get the care or the acceptance that World War vets got, and many became homeless and marginalized. That trend has continued for veterans of Desert Storm and Iraq, and as a result, we have 1200 vets from all these conflicts living in the streets of Reno.


Those working to organize the veterans here in Incline have undertaken to help their comrades in arms in Reno – they are putting together kits of toiletries, clean clothes, etc. and distributing them. That's a start. A better start would be for the Federal Government to rebuild the crumbling Veterans Administration and refurbish its hospitals so that these people can get the care they need. We just spent a huge amount of money to put a lander on Mars. That project will tell is if there is microscopic life on Mars. This will increase the store of human knowledge, and I'm all for that. But the millions (it's surprisingly hard to find out what this mission cost) that were spent to answer this question will not, in the end, bring much real benefit to people here on Earth. At this moment we have people suffering from the effects of a typhoon, an earthquake, wildfires, rampant disease, and still recovering from Katrina and from the Indian Ocean tsunami. Closer to home here we have 1200 people who put themselves in harm's way for us living in the street. How will we honor them this July 4th?

1 comment:

Michele Rosenthal said...

Ed! Great point. How will we honor them on the 4th, indeed? Hopefully with voices like yours there will be some people who turn their eyes from the stars and look closer to the ground for where our money, energy, time, support and creative exploration can be spent.