U.S. veterans are major part of America's homeless

H. C. Covington -- I CAN America (icanamerica@email.msn.com)
Tue, 8 Jun 1999 04:13:46 -0500


Subject: U.S. veterans are major part of America's homeless
From: REMOVETOREPLYhung5@usa.net (Le^ Hu+ng)
Organization: FreeViet News Service
Date: 10 Mar 1999 02:42:41 -0000
Newsgroups: soc.culture.vietnamese

U.S. veterans are major part of America's homeless

By Patricia Wilson


WASHINGTON, March 9, 1999 (Reuters) - Larry Owens served his country
in Vietnam, Panama and the Gulf. He spent 22 years in the U.S. Army
and two years homeless on the streets of Washington. He saw things
that gave him horrendous nightmares. He kept a gun under his pillow.
He drank and did drugs. He lost his wife and four children. And then
he hit rock bottom.

``I had nowhere to turn. I couldn't cope. They said 'he's been to war,
he's crazy, he'll snap on you,''' Owens recalled in an interview. ``I
panhandled, I slept in doorways, bus stations and parking garages.''

His predicament is not uncommon. On any given night, 275,000 veterans
are sleeping on America's streets. Twice that number experience
homelessness over the course of a year. One-third of all homeless
people have served in the military.

``A lot of them are still living the war,'' said Linda Boone,
executive director of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
``They can't re-integrate.''

Owens, 48, simply wanted to follow the family tradition. He signed up
for the Army in 1970 after watching how the military took care of his
father and how the country respected the veterans of the Second World
War.

But these were different times. ``We came home and we were dishonored
for being in the war,'' Owens said. ``When they send you out, you're
the wonder of the world. Then they want to forget us when we come
back.''

Although his story has an auspicious ending -- Owens turned his life
around and now works with Americorps and counsels veterans about
substance abuse -- most others are not so fortunate.

Which is where Boone and her organization come in. NCHV serves as a
liaison and resource centre for homeless veterans, Congress and
government agencies. During a three-day conference that starts in
Washington on Wednesday, they hope to shed more light on the problem
and find some answers.

Boone said many veterans who join the ranks of the homeless live with
the lingering effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance
abuse, compounded by a lack of family and social support networks.

Others, especially those who did not see combat, find themselves in a
confusing limbo between the discipline of the military and the
unconstrained civilian world and cannot cope.

``Some of them leave the forces without even a plane ticket home. No
one even thinks to ask if they have the first and last month's rent
saved,'' Boone said.

Vietnam veterans, who make up almost half of the homeless
ex-servicemen, are particularly difficult cases, although more and
more of those who served in the Gulf War are beginning to turn up on
the streets.

``They went to war when their peers were going to college. They came
back without useful skills and never caught up,'' Boone said.

NCHV wants to shape an agenda for homeless veterans by addressing
issues from addiction to housing. They want the military to identify
at-risk veterans before they leave the services and offer
counseling and assistance programmes.

And, of course, they want Congress to allocate more money to the
Veterans Affairs Department.


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