“I never thought it would be me.”
The statement is still ringing in my head. It packs an incredible punch like few other single statements have in my life. It hurts me to think about it in ways I cannot express, the simple fact that it is happening to a friend of mine is another issue entirely. The topic is homelessness among veterans.
We’ve all heard the statistics about the majority of homeless being veterans, but for so many, those are just a bunch of crazy old guys. For a lot of us who actually are veterans, we kind of assume a large majority of them MUST be lying about their service….right? There is no way that the defenders of our nation are becoming homeless so regularly after their service, or at least that’s what a large majority of those currently serving have always thought.
In the back of my mind it has been one of my greatest fears while serving. I have known for quite some time, that eventually one of my friends would be homeless. One of the men I stood shoulder to shoulder with, one of the men I respected as a peer, one of the few who decided in a time of war to serve their country in a combat MOS would not have a residence to call home. They wouldn’t have a job. They wouldn’t know where their next meal was coming from.
It’s a sobering thought, those who have served our country in the longest conflict our nation has ever seen are not ending up homeless. Just as we are sending out more foreign aide than ever before, we are watching as our veterans are losing their homes, jobs, families, and lives. We can see their world as they know it crumbling in front of them, as they struggle to find their place.
There are plenty of articles on PTSD, suicide rates, and low moral. Recently on OAF we’ve featured articles highlighting the differences between those who have served, and those who have not. This is the root of the issue of homelessness among veterans: returning to a life, and country, seemingly without a purpose. Waking up every single day unsure of why you are doing what you are doing. Meandering through life, no longer with a sense of something larger than yourself, struggling to find a purpose and where to fit in, veterans are lost.
They are lost without a mission, they are lost without a job, and most of all, they are lost without the brotherhood and sense of purpose they once had. What can be done? To be honest, I’m not sure. This generation of veterans has more outstanding benefits than any other generation of veteran. Even with the recent cuts to benefits, our GI bill alone is incredible- you can actually get paid to go to college. It’s not a lack of opportunity, but a lack of purpose that are driving veterans to roam the streets. It’s not that they can’t get a job, it’s that the mind numbing days in a cubicle seem like more of a prison then sleeping in the streets. It’s not that they can’t function in society, it’s that they no longer want to, and can’t see the point of it.
I’m not 100% sure how we can help, and I’m not sure that we really can. How can you help somebody get out of their own head? After countless hours trying to “help” people in a “bad” situation, at some point you realize that maybe deep down, they don’t want the help. They don’t want the hand out. They know you won’t understand, and they have somewhat come to peace with that.
Every year I try to take a trip by myself. Usually when I do this I couch surf, sleep in my hammock, in a car, or just on the ground outside. There is something peaceful and serene about living a simple kind of life, out of a backpack. Maybe that is what homeless veterans are trying to get back to, a simpler life. I’m not really sure what it is, but regardless, it breaks my heart.