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Monday, November 12, 2007

The War to End All Wars

Homless vet

After WWI, November 11 was celebrated as Armistice Day. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the armistice was signed between the Allies and Germany. WWI was called "the war to end all wars" -- didn't really work out that way. Since WWI, America alone has fought fourteen wars -- at least, by my count. I may have missed one or two. The war to end all wars was followed by one helluva lot of wars. In fact, to a large degree, WWII was a result of a poorly thought out treaty ending WWI. The German economy was ruined by the cost of reparations and the people, tired of runaway inflation in combination with a worldwide depression, were desperate enough to follow anyone who promised a way out. Fascism made that promise.

Then, as now, money made the world go 'round.

After WWII, Armistice Day became Veterans Day. It was that day that Americans celebrated yesterday. It was a day to honor the fallen and has become a day to honor all war veterans. It'd be nice if we followed up the wreaths and parades and speeches and flags with some sort of actual help, though. As things are now, we help a few and let the majority of those who need help slide. No doubt we've made a lot of progress since WWI, but we haven't come close to solving all the problems we create with our wars. Like the Armistice that ended WWI, our past wars intrude on the present. The wars come home with the heroes who'd fought them.

Voice of America:

Veterans Day, November 11, is a national holiday set aside to honor the men and women who have served in America's armed forces and to acknowledge the debt we owe them. However, a new study shows that veterans are more likely to be homeless than those in the general population, and that, nationwide, veterans tend to have less access to health care and other supportive services than they need.

The study, which was done by the Washington, D.C.-based National Alliance to End Homelessness, also found that nearly half a million veterans were homeless at some time during 2006, and as many as 66,000 of those vets were chronically without shelter. And while veterans comprise only 11 percent of the American population, they make up one of every four of the nation's homeless.

Part of the problem is PTSD, part of it is physical disability, part may be pre-existing conditions like a tendency toward substance abuse and addiction. Psychological and emotional problems like addiction and PTSD play a very large part here, since movement is often part of the disease. People suffering from these conditions often see their problems as the result of their locations -- if you could only get away from that group of guys who drink themselves stupid every night, if you could get away from all those people who just won't leave you alone, if you could just leave this place that is somehow so much like that hell you left overseas, then you'd be OK. Then you could start over.

But like they say, no matter where you go, there you are. If your problems aren't caused by your community, you just take them with you. The veteran who's run to California or New York or Florida finds that he has just as much trouble holding down a job and building relationships there, but without the family and friends to help support them when they're in trouble.

So they wind up on the street.

Or worse. While the study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness has been getting a lot of press lately, other problems are being under-reported. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans tells us that in 1998, there were 937 incarcerated veterans per 100,000 veteran residents. For the most part, these are unlikely inmates -- only 1 in 6 was not honorably discharged from the military and veterans in prison are three times more likely than the rest of the population to have attended college. It seems extremely likely that, if it hadn't been for their war experience, these people would never have seen the inside of a cell.

President Bush had a lot to say about how much he's helped veterans in his weekend radio address:

Veterans Day also reminds us of our solemn responsibility to care for those who have fought our Nation's wars. Under my Administration, Federal spending for our veterans has increased by more than two-thirds. We have extended medical treatment to a million additional veterans, including hundreds of thousands returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. And we have expanded grants to help homeless veterans across the country.

It's obviously nowhere near enough. Amazingly, 1 in 8 veterans are uninsured. Suicide rates among veterans, especially army vets, are climbing alarmingly. And now rampant homelessness. And, despite VA grants for homeless vets, three states -- Alaska, Maine, and North Dakota -- and Puerto Rico have zero beds for homeless veterans. No state has as many beds as it has vets on the street.

It seems likely that the only way to end these problems is to knock off this war stuff, like we'd planned to after WWI. It may seem unlikely now, but I've always defined hope as the recognition that the best possible outcome is always a possible outcome. It may not be very probable, but it is possible.

Until then, we have to take responsibility for the consequences of our wars. And that means taking better care of veterans.


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