March 13, 2013. Authorities announce charges against 57 individuals spanning six states for operating an illegal gambling operation under the guise of a veteran’s charity. Among the victims of this emerging scandal were the residents of Allied Veterans Center in Jacksonville, Florida. The charity owned facility offered support to veterans with disabilities, and dozens were at risk of becoming homeless. Thankfully, the center survived and retired Marine Colonel Len Loving and his wife are the new managers. However, as of last week, the facility is still struggling and understaffing requires operating at less than full capacity.
Homelessness is not a crime; rather a complex condition inflicting hundreds of thousands across the country each night. Approximately nine percent of the homeless population or 57,000 are veterans. My colleague Mary wrote an excellent blog on June 11 that explains the VA’s definition of being homeless. There are many reasons for becoming homeless and veterans share some common similarities. They include being unemployed or underemployed, suffering psychological disabilities like PTSD and depression, substance abuse prompted by psychological disabilities and most importantly lack of social support.
The former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki was under mounting scrutiny before resigning last month, as he should have. However, Shinseki made significant headway improving the support needed to combat veteran homelessness. Funding has increased exponentially since 2009 when President Obama and Shinseki vowed to end veteran homelessness by 2016. As a result, the number of homeless veterans diminished by almost 25% from 75,000 in 2009 to 57,000 in 2013.
Disappointingly, it appears President Obama will not end homelessness among veterans as promised by 2016. Sadly, thousands of veterans will remain homeless and impoverished suffering from physical and emotional ailments incurred by their military service – a travesty calling into question our humanity and identity as a nation for allowing this to occur. Veterans do not deserve the despair of homelessness – rather entitled to quality healthcare, respect and dignity of a job and home. Therefore, efforts must continue at local and national levels to eradicate veteran homelessness.
You can help numerous ways within your community. If you own a business, consider hiring a veteran. If employed, suggest having a food drive to support local shelters or donate to reputable charities. If you know someone who is homeless, or about to be, contact the VA’s national call center for homeless veterans at 1-877-4AIDVET. Lastly, contact your Congressional representatives and ask what they are doing to fight veteran homelessness.