Today is Memorial Day—a time to honor and remember the lives of fallen U.S. soldiers. Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of the month of May which commemorates U.S. soldiers who died while in military service. Initially, Memorial Day was enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War. After World War I, the decision was made that the holiday would honor Americans who have died in all wars.
Memorial Day is also a time to honor the sacrifices made by living veterans as well. After returning home, many veterans are forced to live under deplorable conditions. A little known fact is the number of homeless veterans in the United States. Under George W. Bush Administration, the number of homeless veterans peaked around three hundred thousand (300,000) on any given night in 2002-03. During Bush’s tenure in the White House, this figure was reduced by approximately half via an increase in supportive programs for veterans.
President Barack Obama understood the importance of continuing the gains to end homelessness for veterans made under the Bush administration. President Obama not only undertook the mission to help America’s homeless veterans but to transformed their lives. By Obama’s directive, and with the continued support of Congress for our nation’s veterans, our nation is now committed to ending veteran homelessness by 2015.
According to the most recent U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Administration count determined that on a single night in January 2009, about seventy-six thousand (76,000) veterans were homeless. This number is down from an estimated two hundred and fifty thousand (250,000) reported eight years earlier, according to the annual VA CHALENG (Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups) reports.
Who are our nation’s homeless veterans?
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states the nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly five percent being female. The majority of them are single; come from urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. Roughly fifty-six (56) percent of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 12.8 percent and 15.4 percent of the U.S. population respectively. About one-third of the adult homeless population are veterans.
Data indicates that America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF), and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Approximately half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. Two-thirds of homeless veterans served our country for at least three years, and one-third were stationed in a war zone.
Much needs to be done to truly honor the lives of our veterans. In my next post, I will write about pending federal legislation that is designed to do just that.
Sources: National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Washington Post. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development. U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development. Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups.
Photo credit: Microsoft Clip Art