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.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The United States is rushing emergency aid to Pakistan - an initial $5 million - to help people uprooted by the fighting against extremists, according to the State Department.
The U.S. had urged the Pakistanis to launch the military action that in recent days has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their villages.
Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took a longer-term view Tuesday and discussed how the United States might triple aid to Pakistan over the next five years.
The State Department said Tuesday the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan and officials of the U.S. Agency for International Development were evaluating the needs of civilians fleeing the Swat valley and surrounding regions in northwest Pakistan.
"We are of course very concerned about the well-being of civilians who are fleeing the fighting in the area," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said. "And we have personnel, USAID personnel, on the ground in Pakistan, not in the Swat valley, but in Pakistan, who are directing assistance to help them."
"We've provided a substantial amount of money through the International Organization for Migration," Kelly said at his daily briefing in Washington. "This is primarily to provide tents, provide shelter and emergency relief supplies, food and medicine to the affected populations."
Kelly said the $5 million was just an initial payment.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Nearly two years before Election Day 2010, the Senate Democrat charged with expanding the party's already-strong majority sounded a bullish tone Thursday, suggesting the national mood and political environment make it nearly impossible for the GOP to pick up seats.
"The fear should be on the other side,” New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told reporters in his first briefing since assuming the post formerly held by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.
Menendez's unyielding optimism may seem surprising given how far out the elections remain, and the fact that the president's party historically loses seats in a midterm election, especially when that party controls both houses of Congress and the White House. The Democratic Party’s decades-long majority status in Congress ended with the first midterm of the Clinton presidency.
But Menendez noted five currently-held GOP seats are set to be vacated in 2010, most of them in traditional swing states: Florida, Ohio, Missouri, New Hampshire, Kansas. Meanwhile, no current Democratic senators have plans to retire, though the president's Cabinet appointments have technically left Colorado, New York, Illinois, and Delaware without an incumbent Democrat.
UPDATE: With New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg removing his name from consideration to be Commerce Secretary, New Hampshire may no longer be an open seat, though Gregg later said he 'probably' would not seek reelection.