I read a couple of troubling (but not surprising) statistics in today's paper: only 8% of Americans can claim veteran status yet an estimated 20% of the nation's homeless population have served their country in the military. "This is a sickening statistic" is how the paper put it and I agree.
This so fundamentally wrong on so many levels that I hardly know where to begin, but let's look at the first figure by itself and ask, "why has the burden of fighting our wars and keeping our nation safe fallen on so few veterans?" Only 8% - not even one out of every ten - of Americans have put on a uniform and stood ready to defend the country? Really?! No wonder we are so quick to send our armed forces into harm's way when all the other 92% of us have to do is claim that we "support our troops" while we go blithely about our day to day business with little knowledge of and no real appreciation for the sacrifices being made by those few men and women. How can we claim to be a nation of patriots if we ask so much of so few and absolutely nothing of so many?
Soldiers and sailors and air forces and marines eventually return home, the lucky ones anyway, to become veterans and we honor them by allowing them to become a disproportionate segment of the homeless population - what the hell is the matter with us?!
OK, I don't have any easy answers, but this is a huge national issue (disgrace, really) that will require a political solution so I'm going to make a suggestion: as the new Congress and state legislatures convene and go about conducting the public's business, watch to see which ones support programs that benefit not only veterans specifically (but that's important) but also programs that benefit our neediest citizens by providing shelter, medical services, nutrition and other necessary support in their time of need. These services will be expensive of course so watch to see which of your representatives are brave enough to stand up and say we must find a way to pay for them, because it's time for us as a nation to step forward and make some sacrifice on behalf of those who served us. If your representative says we can't afford to assist those in need, including our veterans, then ask him how we can afford not to. It's only fair.
That's a lot to ask I know, but if you don't do anything else at all to honor veterans today at least take 5 minutes to watch this video and reflect on the sacrifice that these men and women have made on our behalf and ask, "what do we owe them in return?"