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."
Most homeless are veterans and no one has done anything to help these people who also struggle with mental illness (PTSD) from wartime experiences.
Republicans sure love to start wars, run up huge deficits to play war games, kill or maim our soldiers, and then completely ignore them when they manage to make it back home.
The homeless are not there because they want to be. They have been deserted by the government they put their lives on the line for and were given no medical treatment. Why do they drink? To self-medicate since they have no health insurance and cannot get the medical treatment they need.
Vets. homeless, jobless and forgotten.
All our government is worried about is giving the lazy and irresponsible a free ride on the backs of the few that still have a job.
Don't the health insurance companies have extra money? What about the Congressment and Senators in their pockets - there's money there, too! Help those vets!
Bet if we end the wars and took that money to help the vets we could reduce that number dramitacally.War is a lost cuase to all but the folks who makes weapons of war.That would indeed a good bussness to go bankrupt,I would support a bail out on that one.
That's the little stinch in Uncle Sam's undies.
Bush slashed budgets for Vietnam vets, veterans hospitals and other veterans organizations while piously pointing the fingers democrats for not supporting our troops. Now that this disgrace to the White House is gone, hopefully this is something else that Obama will rectify. Just another facet of the gigantic mess Bush and his cronies left. Everyone please remember that before voting for republicans again
You can't blame the dems for this, vets been homeles for years and years and President Obam is the first i heard of trying to actually help the vets. The repigs doesn't want to help anyone pertaining to giving any monies
Where were you democrats in Congress during the vietnam war?
Now now, do not upset the Repubs. They would rather let the Vets starve and freeze than to offer them shelter, food, and health care. After all, those ideas are too much like Liberal ideas, just as Medicare and Social Sevurity are.
My Conservative friend in my home town, a member of the local police force, is hearing from his police union that since the Repubs won the majority of seats on the local council this Fall, that tax cuts and benefit cuts are sure to follow and he better retire NOW before his benefits are slashed by the Repubs. Odd how the old Conservative "principles" seem to cease when they impact you.
I'm a repub and the answer to this is easy....fire all those union strikers with their unrealistic demands for todays economic climate and give the jobs to the vets.
Philadelphia SEPTA workers should be all fired....11% pay increase, more retirement pay in and even demand they not be part of government health care. Shameful!
We send them off to war to die for our cause but when they return we don't have the integrity or character to thank our vets and help them transition back into regular society. We have wasted close to $5 billion dollars per week for almost 8 years of wars and we can't find the money to help our heros. So much for all the lip service of "support our troops". Instead we say "no new taxes", "cut government spending", etc. Well people, how exactly do you propose to pay for these kinds of programs? Obviously the last administration couldn't have cared less and looked for ways to cut services to vets, let's hope this administration values these soldiers sacrifices for us all and that we all share the financial costs for those who choose to protect us. It's time to be that patriotic American instead of just a sign waving complainer.
This has been a problem ever since the frigid welcome home the Vietnam Vets were given, hatred spawned by the left wing peaceniks who tagged them with the "baby-killer" moniker. Liberalism has been nothing but negative.... and BAD for this country..
Sen. Menendez has been in the Senate for awhile, and his party has been in the Majority foe awhile, so what's the name/number of the bill he previously submitted to help out the vets? Wow, it's so much easier to grandstand than it is to actually accomplish anything, isn't it, Bob?
Homelessness of any type is a disgrace for a nation as rich and powerful as ours is.
It's a disgrace all right, but it's not exactly a new disgrace. Disgusting treatment (or non-treatment) of veterans has been an issue since the Vietnam War, and I'm sure, before.
So the Democratic Federal Government blows $1 trillion on Wall Street ( where did that go? ), $50 billion on GM and Chrysler, $1 trillion on failed stimulus promising to head off unemployment, and people still try to blame the homeless problem on the last administration?
Move over homeless vets. With almost 3 more years of this kind of government management you will soon have millions of new people fighting you for the scraps and sidewalk space you have now. That's the change people voted in a year ago.
republicans treat old furniture with more respect
I'm amazed when I get my request for donations from the DAV. Why in the heck do we need a chairty to assist veterans? Shame on the USA.
– USN Ret.
What a shame we take better care of illegal aliens better than our Vets. And getting some of these second and third generation welfare folks off welfare and give that money to Vets sure would be a good idea.
This is news? I want to hear what the Republicans in DC have to say about it. O yeah, their too busy trying to get the uninsured out on the streets too! Beau Colby
If anyone knows a Vet in need of services--housing, medical, clothing, help with paperwork, etc.................
Please refer them to AmVets--it is one of the best organizations out there for assisting our Vets.
Also, please remember our Vets over the holidays..........A small donation can make a HUGE difference for our Vets.
The government is not too cincerned with the vets. They are more concerned with the illegal aleins and what we can do to help them. Go to ftc-vi26.wmv to see what they want to do for them.
I agree that we need to do something to help vets, but I'm confused a bit by the example in the story. Guy returned from Iraq, her husband left her, and her solution was to get a discharge? Why would she give up a paycheck, healthcare, and housing money if she was about to find herself on her own? To me, that sounds less like an issue of a veteran being homeless and more of an issue of poor decision-making on her part.
Stop all Veteran's care because this is government run socialism.
Say no to any government program.
Homelessness is a national disgrace period.