Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A small rip in the social safety net

Hard to believe that the greatest, and most generous, nation on earth has failed the men and women who served in uniform. After all, President Reagan did promise not to hurt the "truly needy," didn't he?

On this D-Day Anniversary, consider this release.

Hunger Caucus Senators Step up Fight against Veterans Homelessness
Senators team up with National Veterans Organizations, DC Central Kitchen to bring attention to plight of homeless veterans

Washington, DC - On the 63rd anniversary of the Normandy invasion, Senate Hunger Caucus co-chairs Senators Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) today stood up to shed light on the problems of hunger and homelessness facing today’s veterans. An alarming one-third of homeless men nationwide at one time wore our country’s uniform and on any given night 200,000 veterans are sleeping on the streets.

“Veterans have served nobly and selflessly – we need to be ready to help them with the problems they will bring home from the battlefield,” Smith said. “Far too many veterans are leaving military service without proper treatment for mental illness and substance abuse. This Congress can not and should not leave these troops behind. We need to see innovative approaches such as peer mentoring and continued funding for veterans programs to keep our vets from going down a rough road.”

“One aspect of the homeless crisis that often gets overlooked is the homeless veteran,” Lincoln said. “Our veterans who have served so bravely on our behalf deserve the best from a grateful nation, and we must do all that we can to honor their commitment by offering assistance in the transition from service to civilian life. That means providing jobs, rent assistance, and access to quality physical and mental health care for our returning veterans. It’s the least we can do for those we owe so much.”

The most recent estimates by the Department of Veterans Affairs indicate that 45 percent of homeless male veterans suffer from some psychiatric disorder and upwards of 70 percent struggle with substance abuse. Smith and Lincoln urged Congress to take greater efforts to help homeless veterans and to ensure our newest veterans are not set on a path towards poverty and instability upon returning home. They urged Congress to fully fund programs such as the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, Health Care for Homeless Vets, and the Guaranteed Transitional Housing for Homeless Vets.

Reports published by Mental Health America show that adjustment disorders are the most common form of mental illness after mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. To help veterans overcome these obstacles, Smith recently introduced legislation to help ease the struggles faced by our returning vets as they attempt to rejoin their communities. The Heroes Helping Heroes Program authorizes $13.5 million over three years to create and expand peer-support programs for veterans returning from the battlefield.

Lincoln, a long-time advocate for hunger and homelessness relief programs, has supported several initiatives to aid veterans so that they don’t fall into homelessness. She has cosponsored legislation requiring the VA to pro-actively inform veterans of the benefits that they have already earned. In addition, Lincoln has supported an increase in funding for the treatment and research of traumatic brain injuries and other mental health programs.

Senators Smith and Lincoln also presented food items collected during the 2007 Senate Hunger Caucus Food Drive to the United States Veterans’ Initiative, a non-profit organization that works with homeless veterans in the DC area. Smith and Lincoln were joined at today’s event by Stephani Hardy, Executive Director of United States Veterans Initiative and Michael F. Curtin Jr., Executive Director of D.C. Central Kitchen.

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