November 11th is Veterans Day and although rates of homelessness among Veterans is declining, Veterans unfortunately still make up an estimated 13% of the unhoused adult community. We spoke to one such Veteran, Joe, to get an idea why.
Joe volunteered for the Army and served overseas. He felt called to do something positive with his life and give back to his country. He went into the military wholeheartedly. When he was discharged, he was severely injured from combat. Joe expected that the military, and the public, would be there to support him.
Instead, Joe, like many of his comrades, came home to find that public sentiment had turned against them. The government support they deserved was nonexistent. Joe finally ended up paying for his own medical care, followed by years of back and forth with the Veterans Administration and Social Security Disability Insurance to get the benefits he’d earned. In addition, Joe, who was suffering from intense PTSD, supported himself by working as a paramedic. However, after his marriage ended in divorce and a promised job fell through, he found himself in a homeless shelter. After some 30-plus years of feeling ignored and abandoned by the government, Joe finally found help with housing through the V.A. He admits that he was (and still is) hesitant to trust the same entity that had failed him so severely for so long. Joe knows that many vets of his generation feel the same. Many came back from their tours in need of help with medical care, mental health, housing, job placement, and reintegration into civilian life but found no such thing existed. They had risked their lives for a government and a people who, in return, turned their backs on them. However, because the V.A. did finally deliver on housing for him, Joe has started to reexamine the agency. He was pleasantly surprised. “It’s changed a lot,” he says. “They are doing a much better job.” He also appreciates that PTSD is taken much more seriously now. “The meds, the VA...they’ve come so far with it.” Joe understands how it can be easy for veterans to fall into homelessness, especially at times when the support for them hasn’t been there. He does, however, encourage other vets to “ask for help if you need it.” There is no doubt that Joe’s military service influenced the path the rest of his life has taken. Even years later, he lives with the trauma that resulted both during combat and in the years after his return. However, when asked if he would do it again, Joe doesn’t miss a beat. “Absolutely. If they needed me again today, I’d even sign up. I went to fight for the people I love and for freedom, not for the government. I’d still fight for that.”