The friends, family and neighbors of American war Veterans see the plight of so many soldiers but so often do not have the opportunity or resources to affect positive change. The Veterans Administration is offering a quick, cost effective way to help Veterans as part of a national initiative aimed at eliminating Veteran homelessness by 2015.
A staggering 1.5 million Veterans are homeless at some point each year in the United States, and twice as many have a residence, but are food insecure. A fundamental part of the VA initiative includes the Make A Call program. This program directs Veterans to various support options.
The VA plans to allocate $3.4 billion to homeless Veterans health care and $800 million to specialized homeless programs including access to quality food sources. Currently, 75,000 Veterans sleep on the street on an average night and 135,000 have stayed in a shelter at least once. This campaign is designed to encourage friends and family members of homeless Veterans to call the VA hotline, 877-4AID-VET (or 877-424-3838) for help. The VA is committed to supporting homeless and at risk individuals. They hope to inform the entire community about the resources Veterans are entitled to as well as how to get access to them.
Thus far, governmental programs serving financially struggling Veterans have primarily focused on temporary housing. However, this new plan facilitates the prevention of homelessness and the introduction of permanent housing resources as well as employment opportunities.
Just getting our nations heroes off the street is not enough. Temporary housing is a band-aid solution to a much larger problem. By taking actions aimed at eliminating homelessness and offering those that are currently homeless the security of permanent housing, the VA can stifle so many of the fundamental maladies caused by homelessness, such as hunger. The Make a Call program seeks to help educate the community about the options available to Veterans across the country. It transcends state borders and aims to make a national impact on getting American Veterans the help they so desperately need, and deserve.
“Those who have served this nation as veterans should never find themselves on the streets, living without care and without hope,” VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said. “Working with our partners in state and local government, the nonprofit and the private sectors, we can restore our homeless veterans and their families to the lives of dignity they’ve earned.”
Source: United States Department of Veterans Affairs and The Huffington Post
As Hunger among Veterans Grows, So Do the Costs
The recession in the United States beginning in 2007 has had a catastrophic impact on the financial security of almost all Americans. However, it has had a particularly harsh influence on the Veteran population. Hunger among its citizens and especially Veterans, creates a substantial cost to the country as a whole.
The number of hungry people in the United States has risen in parallel with the decreasing number of job opportunities. 36 million people were considered food insecure before 2007 but that number has skyrocketed to 48.8 million over the last 4 years.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans returning from war are greeted by this economically hostile environment and are often homeless and hungry within a year. There are already 9,000 homeless Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans and that number continues to climb rapidly. The Vietnam War Veteran population fell into homelessness at a much slower rate. The reason for this trend is unclear. Some believe it has to do with the greater number of deployments per Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers and the introduction of roadside bombs in the modern war battlefield. The greater number of deployments and roadside bombs are sending an increased number of Veterans home with brain injuries, trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The United States is not prepared for the return of our wartime heroes. Programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program help to provide food for the 16% of Americans who are considered to be food insecure, but it is not enough to even put a significant dent in the problem. Half of the households seeking emergency food assistance still have to choose between food and utilities, 40% between food and rent and 30% between food and medical bills.
A study done in 2010 at Brandeis University aimed to calculate the direct and indirect cost of hunger in relation to adverse health, education and economic productivity. They found the current hunger cost to the United States to be $167.5 billion and that is not including the $94 billion currently spent on programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In 2005, before the recession, the cost was about $90 billion. While this study does not advise towards policy specifically, the authors see a combination of federal policies to boost the wages of the lowest wage earners, increase access to full-time employment, expansion of federal nutritional programs as the most promising set of solutions.
While unemployment among Veterans is 20%, almost twice the national average, the solution to Veteran hunger is not solely increasing the number of job opportunities. The 300,000 Veterans that have applied for mental health benefits and the Veterans with drug and alcohol addictions constitute a significant portion of the hungry Veteran population. The solution must be broader than just the stimulation of the job market.
Source: Veterans Today and The Center for American Progress
Veterans’ Children Also Carry the Burden of Hunger.
Because there are millions of hungry Veterans in this country, there are also millions of hungry children. When Veterans return from war to their families, they often do not have the resources to provide for themselves or their dependent children. As the number of women Veterans increases, this problem becomes even more significant. Food scarcity in children can have life long repercussions that feed into the cycle of poverty.
Overall, children absorb much of the burden from food insecurity. North Carolina, for example, is one of 12 states that has accumulated an estimated $1 billion hunger cost since the recession began. And of the 1.9 million people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, 40% were children.
“These estimates are a gripping reminder that the social and economic implications of family economic security are far-reaching,” said Barb Bradley, President and CEO of Action for Children North Carolina, a statewide policy research and advocacy organization that tracks child well-being in North Carolina. “When families struggle to put food on the table, the effects ripple through the state economy, creating greater health costs, educational problems and reduced opportunities for our children.”
In Harris County, Texas, one in four children live below the poverty line and 47% of adults in Southeast Texas risk going hungry.
“50-percent of who we serve are children,” said Ann Svendsen-Sanchez, who is the Houston Food Bank director of outreach services. “Children know when their family is having a hard time; they know that when there isn’t enough food. They know and they want help.”
Growing up and maturing without access to proper nutrition can lead to a variety of problems later in life such as psychosocial problems like impulsiveness, chronic stress, depression and low self-esteem in addition to physical health problems and development delays. Students who do not get enough to eat also demonstrate poor academic achievement and malaise
Because the current demographic of Veterans has changed to include 14% women, the influence of Veteran hunger on children is an even greater concern in this generation of returning Veterans, as opposed to the group of Vietnam War era Veterans.
Source: American Psychological Association, Mountain Xpress Asheville & Western North Carolina, and KIAH Houston