Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Veterans issues: Homeless, unemployment, PTSD

Among the many pressing problems for today's veterans in the US is housing. Wallace McKelvey (Press of Atlantic City) reports, "A lack of affordable, stable housing for veterans is a persistent problem despite the efforts of nonprofit organizations such as Community Quest and government agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA announced in November it was seeking to build 4,000 units on unused VA properties nationwide through leases to third-parties — only one is in New Jersey, near a health campus in Lyons, Somerset County. An estimated 76,000 veterans were homeless nationwide in January 2010, the most recent statistics available. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the VA, 43 percent of them went unsheltered."

Wars produce veterans. It's a basic point but one that, when made in 2004 by Senator John Kerry, was greeted with scorn not just by Bully Boy Bush but also by our so-called free press. And the number of veterans increases and will continue to increase. Just as the Bush administration did not prepare for the rise in the need for medical care, the Barack administration has not adequately prepared ofr the rise in homeless veterans (this while setting the goal of doing away with homeless status for veterans within five years).

Press TV (link is text and video) notes that the US Government and Accountability Office estimates "1.8 million American women veterans are homeless." March 14th, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on homeless veterans. We covered this in the March 15th snapshot. Among those testifying was Iraq War veteran Chanel Curry.

Chanel Curry: I started off as as a veteran during Operation Iraqi Freedom. I'm from Cleveland, Ohio and I joined the military in 2008. As I served overseas and came back to the United States, I suffered many difficulties finding employment. So I recently relocated to Atlanta, Georgia because I had a job opportunity available to me almost immediately. So I relocated and during my process of living in Atlanta, Georgia, a lot of different circumstances forced me to have to move back to Cleveland, Ohio where I was originally stationed. Coming back to Cleveland, Ohio, it was very hard to find a job. So basically, I bounced around from different relatives homes, different friends and it just became definitely a burden because a lot of people I knew suffered their own hardships and no one could afford to accommodate another adult. So that forced me to have to contact the VA and I contacted the Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and I spoke to a veteran by the name of William and he directed me over to a female by the name of Toni Johnson. Toni Johnson is a representative of the women's homeless outreach program. And she, herself, actually opened up a lot of possibilities for me to get back on my feet. She told me about the Grant Per Diem program and I lived in a homeless shelter, a women's homeless shelter, known as the Westside Catholic Center and there there were other things available for me such as the Employment Connection and I met with a representative by the name of Angela Cash and she basically helped me to get a job at the Cleveland Clinic. So she offered me classes, computer training, basically everything that I needed to be readily available for work. And also she had her own non-profit organization known as the Forever Girls At Heart which is a group of beautiful women who helped me get all of the things I needed for my apartment. Now with that being said, I will be moving into my place as of Friday if everything goes as planned. And I do have everything I need. So the VA definitely went above and beyond to make sure that I was not -- that I did not remain a homeless veteran.

Erik Tucker and Kristin M. Hall (AP) explain, "The problem, a hurdle to the Obama administration's stated goal of ending veterans' homelessness by 2015, is exacerbated by a shortage of temporary housing specifically designed to be safe and welcoming to women or mothers with children." That's a very mild way of putting it. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. In the March 14th hearing, she was very clear about what women veterans faced:

Chair Patty Murray: VA must focus on a new and unfortunately growing segment of the homeless veteran population -- female veterans. Like their male counterparts, women veterans face many of the same challenges that contribute to their risks of becoming homeless. They are serving on the front lines and being exposed to some of the same harshest realities of war. They are screening positive for PTSD, experiencing military sexual trauma, suffering from anxiety disorder, and having trouble finding a job that provides the stability to ease their transition home. Yet when our female veterans find themselves homeless, they have needs that are unique from those of male veterans. And, as the VA's Inspector General found in a report released on Monday, some of those unique needs are not being addressed. The IG [Inspector General] found that there were serious safety and security concerns for homeless women veterans, especially those who have experiences Military Sexual Trauma. They found bedrooms and bathrooms without sufficient locks, halls and stairs without sufficient lighting and mixed gender living facilities without access restrictions. They also found that the VA should do a better job at targeting places and populations that need help the most. And in addition to this IG report, GAO released a report at the end of last year that cited VA for the lack of gender-specific privacy, safety and security standards. Following that report, I sent a letter to VA and HUD with Senators [Jon] Tester and [Olympia] Snowe seeking answers to a number of questions it raised. I have heard from HUD that they are reviewing their data collection process in order to capture more information on homeless women veterans. I have also heard from VA that they are working to develop and provide training for staff and providers to better treat veterans who have experienced traumatic events and modifying their guidance on privacy, safety and security for providers who serve homeless women veterans. As more women begin to transition home and step back into lives as mothers, wives and citizens, we must be prepared to serve the unique challenges they face. As we continue to learn about the alarming number of homeless women veterans, we must be sure that VA is there to meet their needs.

Jessica Pieklo (care2.com) notes, "Female veterans also face some unique challenges according to advocates. Many have suffered sexual assault and remain too traumatized to share common space with men. Many are single mothers struggling to find housing for themselves and their children. They're also more likely to be jobless: Unemployment for female veterans who've served since September 2001 was 12.4 percent last year, slightly higher than for their male counterparts."

US House Rep Linda Sanchez tells John Blackstone (CBS News -- link is text and video), "Female veterans I think feel like, they've kind of been the forgotten patriots. I think you're gonna see increasing numbers continue to struggle." And Sanchez has used her spot on the House Veterans Affairs Committee to ensure that female veterans and their issues are not forgotten. One example from the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing for February 15th:

US House Rep Linda Sanchez: [. . .] To the Secretary, I know that you and I have previously discussed some of my concerns -- specifically with respect to the VA employing female specialists to assist specifically female veterans with VA services. And I know that the administration's budget contains $403 million to address the needs of women veterans. I'm wondering if you can tease that out a little bit and provide more specifics on how that money will be used to address the growing needs of the female veteran population?

Secretary Eric Shinseki: Uh, thank you, Congresswoman. I'm going to call on Dr. Petzel for the details but this is confirmed that you and I have had discussions about this.

US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Yes.

Dr. Robert Petzel: I thank you, Mr. Secretary. Uh, the -- our goal is to ensure that every female veteran has a choice of providers and that, if they wish to, they will be able to be seen by a female provider. About 75% of women choose to have a female provider. And we are able to meet that need in virtually every setting except perhaps some remote community-based outpatient clinics where we just don't have those sort of uh facilities. I can, for the record, give you the details about how much staffing -- what kind of staffing is to be associated with the $403 million increase we're seeing in women's health programs. I don't have that number at the tip of my fingers but it is important to us as I'm sure it is to you that women have a choice, that if they wish to see a female provider, they are afforded that opportunity.

US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Yeah, one of the things on my tour of the Long Beach facility is that they do have a sort of separate women's clinic area where women can choose that to be their point of entry to the system.

Dr. Robert Petzel: About sixty of our largest medical centers have specific women's centers, women's health centers where all of the services are provided in that same environment. The rest of them are sort of associated with women specific primary care clinics when they're not as large. And then, in community based outpatient clinics we have trained the primary care providers in the necessities of women's health.

Derek Turner (Stars and Stripes) reports that unemployment for all "recent veterans" of the current wars hit 10.3% last month -- an increase from February's 7.6%. John Blackstone (CBS News) breaks down that 10.3% -- "10.2 percent of male vets are listed as unemployed. The number stands at 10.8 per cent for females".

In addition to homelessness and unemployment, veterans face many other challenges including wounds of war. Iraq War veteran Edward Andrew Snyder returned home but, as Dennis Yusko (Times Union) reports, he was discharged from the military after being "diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression" and struggled until he took his own life December 9th of last year, becoming one more fatality in the Iraq War. His grandmother Melody DiGregorio states, "He could no longer deal with the darkness, the heaviness of PTSD. He did not feel he could get out of it."

PTSD can span from mild to severe. Some self-medicate due to lack of VA resources (sadly, this includes those who actively seek help and are denied or delayed due to various budget and staffing issues), some are unaware of the resources that are out there. (Click here for the VA's National Center for PTSD page.) There is also the military culture stigma towards seeking help that undercuts treatment of PTSD. For those who seek and receive treatment, PTSD is something that can be managed. (I'm sure there are a number who have PTSD and never seek treatment and never self-medicate or self-harm that do just fine. There are always exceptions to the rule. Most people, however, will need treatment whether it's clinical, medical, holistic or whatever. There are a variety of treatments and ways to address PTSD.) Veteran Devin Hamilton of KFBB provides a video report on living with PTSD. It's not closed captioned. We'll do an excerpt of it in today's snapshot.

The following community sites -- plus NPR, the Guardian, CPSAN, Cindy Sheehan, Adam Kokesh, Antiwar.com, Susan's On The Edge and The Bat Segundo Show -- updated last night and this morning:

Okay, it's musical Tuesday. Today various new releases are out. Bonnie Raitt releases Slipstream, her first album in seven years (download the album for $7.99 at Amazon currently, that's a sale price, regular price will be over $14.00). Bonnie was an established an talented artist admired by many before she finally found huge commercial success with Nick of Time in 1989. On the same day that classic was released, Carole King's City Streets was released -- by the same label which did not do a good job of working both albums. But today Bonnie and Carole both issue new releases again. While Bonnie's releasing her first album in seven years, Carole's releasing her first book ever, the autobiography A Natural Woman: A Memoir (on sale for $17.04 in hardcover at Amazon right now). Renee Montagne speaks with Carole King on today's Morning Edition (NPR -- link is audio and will be transcript later today). Kat noted the book in her reviews of the reissues of "Carole King's Touch the Sky" and "Carole King's Welcome Home" last month. (I've only read three chapters but I love it and hope to read more whenever time is created with a magic wand. Seriously, we will be covering it in some form at Third -- so I'll probably be flipping through the book furiously on the plane ride home Saturday morning.) This month, Kat's reviewed "M. Ward's A Wasteland Companion" which is released today and Renee Montagne also speaks with M. Ward on today's Morning Edition (link is audio -- transcript will be posted by this afternoon). We're not done with musical Tuesday. Before noon today, Kat's latest album review will be up. Not Bonnie Raitt. She'll post her Bonnie review this Sunday. This is a different album she's reviewing this morning. Again, it's musical Tuesday. (And for those who don't know -- Bonnie's hits include "Have A Heart," "Something To Talk About," "Thing Called Love," "I Can't Make You Love Me" and many more while Carole's hits as a singer-songwriter include "It's Too Late," "I Feel The Earth Move," "Only Love Is Real," "So Far Away" and more. Her hits as a songwriter are far too numerous to mention. )

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