Over 15 million Americans are jobless, and veterans are being hit even harder, says Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Young veterans are facing 20 percent unemployment, a big jump from 6.1 percent in 2007.
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, citing Veterans Administration figures, says approximately 107,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness. Veterans are about 8 percent of the general population, but they make up nearly 25 percent - one in four - of the nation's homeless, says the group. About 1.5 million other veterans are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.
We are seeing a flood of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In a Daytona Beach News-Journal op ed, Florida Veterans for Peace member Phil Restino notes that "traumatic brain injury is the 'signature wound' for our combat troops." Many others return from combat "as single or multiple amputees requiring lifelong care."
"The number of homeless and incarcerated military veterans in America is reaching all- time highs," he writes.
"Epidemic levels of post-traumatic stress disorder have, in turn, led to high incidences of alcoholism and drug abuse among our troops and veterans. Military families are being broken up as spouses and children have to endure multiple deployments of their loved ones, and, when the troops do return home, the family members are often exposed to domestic violence.
"Repeated exposure to depleted uranium, used in U.S. munitions during deployments, has led to our troops and military veterans being subject to various cancers, auto-immune diseases, and other serious illnesses as well as birth defects in their offspring. Depleted uranium has often been referred to as this war's 'Agent Orange.'"
The VA serves many thousands of these veterans, and the Obama administration has made a point of increasing resources for this very successful 80-year-old government-run health care and social service agency, but funding limitations mean many more thousands must turn to local government agencies and community organizations for help.
At a time when more services are urgently needed for our nation's veterans, the war-hawk Republicans and their tea party allies not only denounce "big government" but are moving to slash government jobs and services at the federal, state and local levels. Veterans will be among the first victims of such cuts - as workers and job-seekers, and as Americans who need help to get back on their feet after having fought our country's wars.
At the same time, the Republicans are blocking government action to create jobs - a particularly vital need for our veterans.
Meanwhile, Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham are ratcheting up war threats against Iran, and more of that can be expected in the coming months. Just as in the Bush-Cheney era, these over-age Republicans have no compunction about starting another war, sending our men and women into harm's way.
You can bet GOP politicians will rush to be first in line at Veteran's Day parades and ceremonies. But the real tribute to veterans lies in funding jobs and public services that they so badly need and deserve. Let your elected officials know they need to do what's right, not what's right-wing.
Photo: A group of Marines from Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga., attended a Veterans Day ceremony in honor of Operation One Voice, Nov. 8, 2010. (Pamela Jackson)