Today is Veterans Day, but it shouldn’t be the only day we remember and honor the contributions of America’s military veterans.
The number of American World War II veterans is dwindling, but current conflicts in the Middle East are putting more U.S. troops in harm’s way every day. It’s unlikely we will run short of veterans to honor anytime soon.
Some of the problems faced by troops returning home from World War II are the same as those faced by younger veterans today. War can have a devastating emotional and physical impact on young men and women. We may be more able to recognize and respond to some of those issues today, but, in too many cases, we are falling short.
A report issued Tuesday indicated that the number of homeless veterans continues to grow, both in Kansas and across the nation. Based on reports from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there were an estimated 131,000 homeless veterans in America on any given night in 2008, and more in the course of the year. New figures for Kansas indicate there were 712 homeless veterans in Kansas in 2008, up from 689 in 2007 and 601 in 2006.
According to a recent federal survey, veterans account for 23 percent of all homeless people in America. The VA reports that 45 percent of homeless vets suffer from mental illness and half have substance abuse problems. More than 67 percent served America for at least three years, and 33 percent served in a war zone. Just under half served in the Vietnam era.
Last week, the VA held a three-day conference at which it put forth plans to end veteran homelessness in five years. It is a challenging goal, but one that all Americans should embrace. We hope that the five-year plan includes an initiative discussed last summer to build a housing facility for homeless veterans at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita. These veterans deserve any help we can give them to improve their lives.
Many homeless veterans, as well as many others, undoubtedly are affected by a diagnosis that was unknown a few decades ago: post-traumatic stress disorder. A story in Tuesday’s Journal-World reported on new research on PTSD and concussion-like brain injuries that are a common occurrence in current conflicts in the Middle East.
The research is showing that traumatic brain injuries trigger changes in how the brain operates and present a possible link to the symptoms associated with PTSD. Although the injuries mostly involve no obvious wound, they can pose lifelong challenges for war veterans.
Continued research and expanded services for injured and homeless veterans are good ways to show our appreciation for the service they have offered. However, all veterans, regardless of whether they have been injured or even served in a war zone, deserve our gratitude. They have made a decision to put their country ahead of many other personal interests they might pursue.
Today, and every day, we thank them for their courage and their service.