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“To care for him who shall have borne the battle and his widow, and his orphan,” said Abraham Lincoln during his second inaugural address on March 4, 1865, after the end of the Civil War, which was America’s bloodiest conflict, leaving an estimate of 620,000 men dead in the line of duty.

“With those simple words,” pointed out Floretta Strong-Pulley, retired Minority Veteran Program Coordinator,  “we got the beginning of a law…Title 38, which has grown, and grown and grown.”

Title 38 outlines veterans benefits, that at one point, only included healthcare for veterans, their children until they were 18 years old and their widows. Now a lot has changed.

The Veteran Affairs (VA) tries to assist homeless veterans to rectify their situation through programs such as Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Administration Supportive Housing, HUD-VASH, which offers subsidized rent for chronically homeless and or disabled veterans. The VA also offers Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Programs, which offers transitional housing and supportive services for veterans since 1994. This program offers housing and healthcare support to veterans who are in dire need of assistance.

Furthermore, the VA tries to provide jobs for veterans by offering the assistance of veteran representatives, whose jobs are to look at each individual veteran and try to help find a job meeting the specific needs for that person–whether the veteran is recently unemployed and once served in Vietnam, to a new veteran just coming home from active duty. The veteran representative looks at various databases, referral lists and contacts in order to help ensure steady employment for the veteran.

Moreover, the VA offers healthcare to veterans, providing 1,243 healthcare facilities all over the United States. There are 170 medical centers and 1,063 outpatient centers. Illinois offers 5 medical centers and 32 outpatient centers. Vet centers specialize in providing help for veterans who need to re-adjust to the civilian lifestyle or help dealing with Post-traumatic stress disorder.

That being said, veterans who are struggling mentally and have subsequently gotten into trouble with the law, depending on the severity of the charge and whether or not it was a violent incidence, can attend a special veteran court, which will offer rehabilitation for the veteran through counseling and reformative programs that will hopefully get the veteran’s life back on track after a year of participating in the program.

So, in an ideal scenario, a veteran, after serving his or her country and being honorably discharged, shouldn’t have any problem getting his/her life on track once she/he re-enters civilian life.

But, as Strong-Pulley points out, life has a tendency of being less than ideal.

Veterans only represent a little more than 1 percent of the U.S population, and yet that still equates to 21 million Americans whose needs greatly contrast between one another.

While one veteran may come back from a war or conflict physically and mentally strong and ready to rejoin society, there’s another soldier who has come back physically disabled, whose wife has left him and home has been foreclosed on. There’s another soldier who is dealing with extreme PTSD and struggling to get by on a day-to-day basis.

More than 10 percent of veterans are homeless, even with programs such as HUD VASH and Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program.

While vet centers try to tackle the mental health issues of every honorably discharged veteran who seeks assistance,  about 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm), and 11 percent of Afghanistan veterans have PTSD.

While unemployment rates for veterans this year are lower than last year, about 4.2 percent of males, and 5 percent of female vets are unemployed

The most troubling of all is the suicide rate for veterans. According to Veteran Affairs Mental Health Office, about 65 percent of veterans who take their own lives are 50 years old and older. Furthermore, the likelihood of a veteran taking his or her life in comparison with a civilian who has never served is 22 percent higher.

Pulley-Strong says, “Do what you can, one veteran at a time, one veteran at a time…There will never be enough money allocated to all the things we need to do, that should happen.”

If you notice a veteran having a difficult time and needs assistance, please call  Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255.



A Closer Look at the Veteran Affairs Office was originally published on chicagodefender.com

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