US military veterans feel abandoned by their government
Many of them say that they're government could have helped them avoid homelessness.
Beyond San Diego’s picturesque skyline lies an ugly truth. A wounded military community neglected by the very nation they fought to defend.
“I was physically and mentally able to defend my country and my men and I came back for what, to be medicated and pushed to the side. That’s morally and ethically unjust,” said Clifford Wiggins, a Vietnam Veteran.
“It’s a monster that we created with our veterans.”
“I think the government has abandoned a lot of people, not just the service people. I think the government abandoned everybody.”
These are just some of the troubled voices coming from a growing number of homeless veterans.
This particular weekend, they made their way to Stand Down – an annual non-profit event that helps thousands of homeless vets get back some of their dignity.
Many of these vets will get assistance in housing, clothing, and work and even a little entertainment.
At Stand Down they’re going to go through half a ton of meat, just to feed these veterans it’s a big deal. Some of these veterans haven’t had a square meal in weeks. And unfortunately, once they leave here, they won’t have another one for a very long time.
“It’s kinda depressing, but a veteran knows how to adapt to survive,” said Wiggins.
Wiggins is a Vietnam veteran hoping to get his life back on track for his grandchildren. He is a recovering alcoholic. Wiggins remembers returning from the war and the Veterans Administration trying to medicate him instead of addressing the real problem.
He suspects their motivation.
“Politics … politics. This country takes care of everybody else but their own. And it shouldn’t be like that,” he said. “That’s pitiful.”
It’s a pattern that has continued for the newer generation of vets.
“I went to the veteran’s administration for treatment a year after I was discharged and I was feeling suicidal, I was refused treatment actually,” said Brian Little, US Navy.
Little thinks history is repeating itself; that the US government has not learned anything from the Vietnam War and that the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq will only get worse.
“It’s scary, I don’t want to be around here in 10 years, this place will probably be wall to wall,” said Little.
“Active duty military in general needs to do a better job helping people to transitioning people into civilian life,” said Dr. Jon Nachison, the founder of Stand Down.
Nachison helped start Stand Down 23 years ago. He has relied on volunteers and donors to pitch in and help where the government has failed. He thinks a growing bureaucracy and a lack of coordination are keeping veterans from getting the help they need.
These weathered war heroes have their own take on it.
“You know lance corporal Julio has no legs. Why should he have to come to you for help? You give it to him,” said Wiggins.
“More people are going to say, screw this, this is wrong and we got to do something about it and instead of doing something criminal or rioting about it, they’re gonna’ walk up to a camera and get on the internet and start an insurgency that needs to get started,” said Little.
Iraq war veteran and radio host Adam Kokesh argued that veteran homelessness is a symptom, caused by both from the individual and the government.
“It’s a symptom of what it means, some of the more typical consequences of being a veteran, dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, drug or alcohol abuse, or just generally coming out of a job like that and not having nay skills that are relent in the rest of the economy. So, those are things that are contributing factors that lead to homelessness,” said Kokesh.
Kokesh argued that it is bigger than a simple failure by the government to care for veterans. The symptoms need to be targeted in order to address the overall problem.
The responsibilities between civilian and military like are dramatically different, there is an adjustment period between military and civilian life, explained Kokesh. There is a need for a support system following the return home to help veterans readjust to prevent the underlying causes of veteran homelessness, he argued.