US veterans: Heroes abroad, destitute at home

on   /   in Dispatches from America 6:08 pm   /   Comments

By Uche Onyebadi
IF you go by how successive U.S presidents praise and celebrate the soldiers they send abroad to fight for the honour and defense of their fatherland, you would think that upon their return back home the soldiers who survived the carnage abroad would get the best of what the system has to offer at home.  Well, not quite.

A sizeable number of these war veterans come home only to be confronted by a life that is full of sorrow and tears; a tale of giving your life for the dignity of your motherland while your motherland cares little about the dignity of your person.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, the country’s veteran population was 21.3 million as at 2013. This figure includes all living ex-service men and women who have fought in any of the wars the country has been involved in.

The unemployment rates for women and men in the same period were 6.5 and 6.9 percent respectively. Somehow, you would imagine that there is a near zero unemployment rate for the veterans. But, the figures tell a different story.

Homelessness. That is another hallmark about patriotic U.S. men and women who had fought in several wars on behalf of their country.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “there were 57,849 homeless veterans on a single night in January 2013. Sixty percent were located in shelters or transitional housing programs, and 40 percent were in unsheltered locations. Just under 8 percent (4,456) were female.”

The month of January is when the winter season is perhaps getting to its peak and you cannot imagine life in a situation of homelessness or wish it for your worst enemy. Yet, some of the veterans who survived the harsh climatic conditions abroad come home to face the same circumstance. Is it not shocking to find out that ex-U.S uniformed men and women can actually come home to find themselves living in the streets and being tormented by inclement weather?

All they do is to pray for the arrival of occasional good Samaritans who will provide them with some food and some form of shelter. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Figures available from U.S. Congressional Research Service in February this year, indicate that in the year 2013, slightly over 15,000 diagnoses were made among U.S. veterans regarding the dreadful post-traumatic stress syndrome.

The figure was about 3,000 in the year 2000, and hit an all-time high of about 21,000 in the year 2012. In a related case, an NBC news report in February this year cited a U.S. veteran’s administration study which showed that about 22 U.S. veterans committed suicide every day in 2010.

As you read this pathetic fate of some U.S. veterans, CNN is still investigating the horror that took place at a veteran’s hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. Over there, the hospital management came up with a weird scheme that kept sick veterans on the doctors’ waiting list for several months.

The CNN report reveals that 40 veterans died while on this waiting list, of course without getting a chance to see a doctor. The White House is currently investigating this incident. On its part, the U.S. House committee on veterans’ affairs has already subpoenaed the Secretary for Veteran Affairs, retired General Eric Shinseki, to appear before it to answer questions about the scandalous deaths of veterans on the hospital’s waiting list.

If you are alarmed that a country with such huge resources can treat its veterans in such a shabby manner, you might not entirely be on the right track. The fact is that the U.S. government has a number of good things it does for these veterans. Education is one of the ways the government seeks to cushion the process of returning them to civilian life.

A few years ago, President Obama came up with a program that encouraged employers to throw olive branches to men and women who had served their nation in wars abroad. Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of the U.S. vice president, have a long-standing programme that seeks to make life more comfortable for the ex-soldiers and their families.

In his 2013 budget, President Obama proposed $157 billion to be allocated to the veteran affairs department to take care of the former soldiers. Besides by nominating Eric Shinseki, a veteran himself, to head the veteran’s administration, the president appears to put premium on the welfare of the soldiers.

But, it is evident that something huge is still amiss. As some U.S. soldiers fight the enemy at war zones abroad some ruthless mortgage entrepreneurs at home are busy selling off their houses. When some of these soldiers come home, they discover that homelessness is the new war they cannot win. Some of them face disjointed families, severe health problems, unemployment, violence and ultimately divorce. Having killed U.S. enemies abroad, these soldiers come home to take their own lives. And now, CNN reports that 40 veterans have died merely by being on interminable doctors’ waiting list in their own country.

The fate of U.S. war veterans is another political issue. It only gains some traction whenever the next presidential election cycle is on the radar. Thereafter the warriors are basically left to fend for themselves by a country that sent them to war, only to practically look the other way when they come home.

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