November 10th, 2009
04:20 PM ET
4 years ago

Senator: 131,000 homeless vets a 'disgrace'

Sen. Menendez said Tuesday that 'Veterans' homelessness is a national disgrace.'
Sen. Menendez said Tuesday that 'Veterans' homelessness is a national disgrace.'

Washington (CNN) - Americans from coast to coast are getting ready to enjoy the annual Veterans Day holiday this week.

For thousands of homeless men and women who once served in the armed forces, however, the day is merely another reminder of "the thin line that exists between survival and despair," one U.S. senator said Tuesday.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 131,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey noted at a Senate subcommittee hearing on the subject.

"Veterans' homelessness is a national disgrace," he said.

"American heroes (are) huddled over a heating grate in the shadow of the Washington Monument, or curled up on a bench by the war memorials on the Mall in Washington, or trying to find shelter in cities across America."

The VA has concluded that 260,000 veterans are homeless over the course of a typical year, he added. An estimated one in four homeless men or women served in the military.

The increasing number of servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with the economic downturn, Menendez noted, has contributed to a recent spike in the number of homeless families with veterans.

"The federal government ... is not doing nearly enough when so many new veterans are falling through the cracks," he said. "The current system of dealing with their needs is being overwhelmed."

The VA is on track to spend approximately $3.2 billion on programs for homeless veterans this year, claimed Peter Dougherty, who heads up the VA's programs addressing homelessness. Out of that total, $2.7 billion will be directed toward health care services.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki recently outlined a five-year program designed to eliminate homelessness among veterans.

There may be a number of federal and state services, Iraq war veteran Lila Guy argued, but "most veterans don't know what options are out there for them."

Guy, who spent a year in Iraq with the Army, found herself homeless shortly after returning to the United States in 2006. Her husband left her and their children at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, when he learned that she would have to redeploy within a year, she said.

Guy was able to get a hardship discharge, but had trouble readjusting to civilian life as a single mother. Finding herself suddenly homeless, she moved back in with her parents.

She was eventually able to move into VA-assisted housing after being helped by her congressman, Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania.

A lot of soldiers, "come back with so many mental issues," she told the committee.

"The transition is hard. ... They train (you) to fight and do all those things (but) they don't teach you how to live a normal life when you get back."


Filed under: Bob Menendez • Veterans Affairs
soundoff (72 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    I agree. Me being a veteran, it is an absolute disgrace. We need a 21st century VA because these worn down buildings aren't cutting it. There needs to be re-education training as well. What kind of job do you expect a young infantryman to obtain when returning home? Security guard? The situation is unacceptable.

    November 10, 2009 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  2. LacrosseMom

    This IS NOTHING NEW........ since Vietnam when our Vets came home suffering from all manner of war related trauma, we have seen them on our Nation's streets!

    I volunteer feeding the homeless,and I see countless Vets, from the Korean war, Vietnam, Desert Storm and now...... the Bush Wars!

    Its disgraceful, that our Vets are on the streets! Let's STOP FUNDING WARS...... and buy homes, rent apartments with the TRILLIONS BEING SPENT!

    November 10, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  3. seebofubar

    And in 2013 if the democrats get their way, all of the homeless vets will be in jail (mandated in the house bill) if they don't pony up and buy life insurance. At 50,000/yr to house an inmate that's 6 billion 550 million dollars. Makes sense doesn't it?

    November 10, 2009 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  4. Enough

    Our vets should be taken care of and illegal aliens should be shipped home.............Why in this great country do the illegals get better treatment then the people who served our country? That is a disgrace.

    November 10, 2009 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  5. Steph

    Thank you for bringing attention to this disgrace. We need to honor our veterans by provide them with appropriate physical and mental health care.

    November 10, 2009 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  6. D. Tree

    So is this what conservatives want? Republicans are holding up health benefits for veterans, while cheering for war at the same time.

    Get a clue, Republicans! You can't just blindly spend on war and not take care of your own soldiers!

    This toxic attitude the Republicans have toward all government programs is ridiculous!

    November 10, 2009 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  7. Sniffit

    But but but...to quote my GOPer colleagues: "Why the hell should I help anyone who doesn't want to help themself? Get your hands out of my pockets!"

    November 10, 2009 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  8. C. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    This is not a new disgrace it's an ignored disgrace. When Bush sent our troops to war in the Middle East I questioned "what are they going to do for them upon return". The Vietnam war was the reason for my questioning because our Veterans have been living on the streets since then; they hold up signs begging for help and we pass them by without even saying thank you for your services. People like Sen. John McCain disgust me because if he was a true hero he would have been a champion for our veterans, but no he got his and that appears all he cares about.

    November 10, 2009 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  9. Shari, NY

    Adding to the problem is the fact that some of the homeless are mentally challenged – SHELL SHOCKED FROM YEARS OF DEFENDING OTHER PEOPLE BUT ALAS UNABLE TO DEFEND THEMSELVES IN THE END.

    November 10, 2009 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  10. George Guadiane - Austerlitz, NY

    When Ronald Reagan closed up the mental hospitals he told America;
    "You can't help those who simply will not be helped. One problem that we've had, even in the best of times, is people who are sleeping on the grates, the homeless who are homeless, you might say, by choice." - President Reagan, 1/31/84
    Now, as then, the plight of Americans – in this instance, Patriotic Americans who served their country, who may have severe physical and/or mental injuries as a result of that service are actually LUCKY that America is now in the hands of those "Communist/Liberal/Socialists" who can and WILL help them. If a Republican had won election (YES, even McCain – look at his voting record on Veterans issues), they would just stay homeless or die.

    I pray for all of our homeless. I hope our homeless vets get the special attention they gave our country returned BY our country.
    We can be and ARE better than the politics and policies that have brought us to this brink... Let's get to work.

    November 10, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  11. ATL Guy

    Republicans only care about the military when they're ready to send them to war. You hear them crying for Obama to "listen to the general on the ground" and send 40k troops to Afhanistan to be fodder for the Taliban. When they come home hurt or disfigured, they get forgotten and left to fend for themselves.

    November 10, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  12. Felonious Monk

    In 2007 the department of defense computer network was compromised and terabityes of nationally sensitive security information was stolen. This was on the Bush Cheney watch when they were protecting us.
    What a joke, terabytes of information stolen under their watch.

    November 10, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  13. slf

    I dont find this surprising, given that many people join the military because they do not have very good job prospects to begin with. If you add a physical disability, stress associated with that job, and/or then the loss of prime working/college years, this group of people is being set up for a lifetime of dependency on the government for benefits, either through the military or through other welfare programs.

    November 10, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  14. T Nykreim

    How is this possible? Where is America honor? What is happening to our country? Who can help these people? Is this the new way we dishonor our veterans? Cry out America let's change this!

    November 10, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  15. Mike D

    As a 16-year veteran of the United States Air Force (and still serving) I also find the Homeless Veteran Problem appaling. WWII vets were truly treated as they duly deserved. An employer (i.e. DoD...or the War Department back then) who actually CARED about their well-being "after the fact", a warm and rousing welcome back home, companies that would hire them, etc. These days I see my Air Force and Army brothers/sisters greeted with an "Oh, you're a vet? That's nice..." It's a travesty, period. Nobody deserves a free ride. However the men and women who risked their lives, endured family separation, financial hardship and my have a permanent disability deserve better. To know that I'd be treated no differently if I separated today makes me shiver. We NEED to do something, people. I wish I knew exactly what that is. We elect those who hopefully will serve our best interests. It would be nice if it was easier to fire them when and if they don't deliver the goods, but the system is what it is. I'm a vet, just like millions of others. Our brothers and sisters deserve better.

    November 10, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  16. Randolph Carter, I'm no expert but.....

    Having worked with the homeless at various times in my life, I have met many, many homeless vets. This senator is absolutely right, it is a national disgrace. Have a nice day!

    November 10, 2009 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  17. bhak

    I think its a shame that the government will go out of its way to support illegal aliens and their anchor babies over our own with their hands out for all the freebies . Our Vets should come first over the illegals.

    These Men and Women risked their lives to protect our country & freedom , when they really need support and help from us the government just to turn their backs on our Vets.

    November 10, 2009 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  18. bob in LA

    I don't get it. we have a Veteran's Administration and last I heard hundreds of plans to help vets. What am I missing here?
    Have benefits been cut? Do they just not take advantage of them? Is this a case of the mentally ill vet not getting the proper care and not knowing how to handle thier situation?
    Instaed of saying the probelm is terrible- where is this Senator's solution?
    Typical!

    November 10, 2009 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  19. Tommygunn

    Where's DICK CHENNEY and family?

    He should be sent to spend a week or better in these guys homes. It is a shame for DICK to speak only about war, then dodging Vietnam while the homeless from that era was also terrible.

    Wouldn't be nice for DICK CHENNEY to say something positive about government response to assist our honored soldiers oppose to trashing politicians with war antics.

    hmmmmm........

    November 10, 2009 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  20. oldtimer

    This is the thanks they get for serving their country. WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 10, 2009 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  21. Gary's Opinion

    I'm kind of fed up with wealthy Senators and congressmen who run around in limosines, own multiple mansions, fly private jets and eat at expensive restaurants complain about homelessness. They take millions from lobbiests and jobs with lobbiest when they are done. Why don't they do something about it?....If you are a multimillionaire with 4 homes and you are concerned about homelessness, then sell one home and open a homeless shelter in your nearest city. If everyone who claims to care about the poor and the homeless would do their small part the problem would be solved. Particularly the Democrats like Charlie Rangel cheat on their taxes, have homes in the tropical islands and then want to tax me more to pay for someone else's expenses. I give generously to charities and these losers don't. Stop complaining, stop taking other people's money and start helping out yourself.

    November 10, 2009 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  22. Jeremy in Albuquerque

    Go Bob! Let's fix it!

    November 10, 2009 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  23. S M R

    We can thank Republicans for devastating OUR Country at every level

    November 10, 2009 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  24. Mickey

    "Veterans' homelessness is a national disgrace" , thanks again to George W. Bush, the "War President".

    GOP: Evolve or die...

    November 10, 2009 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  25. AJ in TX

    The same government that abandoned our Vets now wants to take over health care?!

    November 10, 2009 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
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