I remember being in Washington, DC, in 2016. I was walking to an appointment and had to walk under an overpass. There, curled up against the cement sides were several individuals covered in blankets, newspapers and cardboard trying to sleep; to be invisible. I passed them, trying not to stare; trying to be invisible. It made me ashamed and profoundly sad.
My affiliation with the military dates back to my childhood. All the men in my family served in one branch or another since the civil war. My grandfather took me to a Christmas party at the VFW. My uncles served in Korea. One of them was diagnosed with “shell shock”. He received his medication through the mail. He stayed to himself. When he wasn’t “feeling well”, the children were told to “leave him be”. Days would go by before he was approachable again. His son, my cousin was in the Navy. We never knew that he was running missions in the water ways of Vietnam. Not long before he passed, he shared his experience with me through long sobs as he released his secrets.
I grew up to marry an Army man. I spent much of my twenties and thirties being involved in spousal and family support activities. Both of my sons deployed to Iraq. One was there in 2003 in a tank on the front line. The other one was driving in convoys in 2005. They left as boys and came back as hardened men.
I am a Social Worker. For more than twenty years, I worked in areas of social services and mental health within federal employment. I retired in 2011. In 2012, I opened Coastal Family Counseling, LLC where I continue to provide mental and social services to a broader range of people to include Veterans, Active and Reserve military, as well as family members. The effects of the ongoing conflict in the current world we live in has had a profound impact on the military and their families. As a result, the number of homeless veterans has increased and now include Veterans with children. We American Civilians who have not served can make no excuse for this.
Statistically, the numbers have not decreased significantly since 2003. Depending on what research agency you check, the numbers run roughly around 20,000 homeless Veterans. I live near Savannah, GA. They have 32 different homeless camps. Many individuals are veterans.
In 2017, I created BuddyWatch, Inc. to aggressively address the needs of homeless Veterans. Veterans belong to us. We need to demonstrate our appreciation for their service, not just utter “Thank You for Your Service”. Words without action are meaningless.
Every time I see a homeless Veteran, I think he/she could be my son/daughter, my brother/sister, or someone I have known through the years. Someone who did not fare so well from their time in service. Someone who served in Vietnam! Someone who found solace in drugs and alcohol and as a result of lost connections to society. Someone who could be me. That someone could be you.