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Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Homeless on Veterans’ Day



Gen. Shinseki with the president at a Veterans’ Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

We reprint the following editorial from today’s New York Times as a reminder that a grateful nation owes its veterans more than ceremonies and nice words. Also, we salute the admirable commitment of General Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, to improving this nation’s care and rehabilitation of its veterans. We earnestly hope the White House and Congress will listen to him (he has not always been heeded) and help as he recommends.

Veterans not only deserve good counseling, job training, and housing assistance, but they also need—and certainly they have earned—dependable, affordable health care. A Harvard Medical School study finds that last year, 2,200 veterans died for lack of health insurance—that’s six preventable deaths per day. Some 1.46 million veterans between 18 and 64 (too young for Medicare) have no health insurance. (Those not injured in battle and who are above a certain income are often ineligible for V.A. care.)

Homeless on Veterans Day: A New York Times editorial

Gen. Eric Shinseki was famously shunned by the Bush administration for daring to state the true costs of occupying Iraq. As President Obama’s secretary of veterans affairs, he is, thankfully, no less candid about the grinding problems veterans face at home. They lead the nation in depression, suicide, substance abuse and homelessness, according to data that Mr. Shineski is delivering in salvos in his current role.

About one-third of all adult homeless men are veterans, and an average night finds an estimated 131,000 of them from five decades bedding down on streets and in charity sanctuaries. About 3 in 100 of them are back from Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem of homelessness for Vietnam veterans is, shamefully, well known. But the men and women in this growing cohort took just 18 months to find rock bottom, compared with the five years-plus of the previous generation’s veterans.

General Shinseki has promised to galvanize the Department of Veterans Affairs to lead a national drive to end veteran homelessness in the next five years. Is that anywhere near possible? “Unless I put an ambitious target on the table, I don’t know how we’ll start,” the secretary told a forum of wounded veterans.

He has also pledged $3.2 billion to bolster housing, education, job and medical programs to help troubled veterans before they hit the streets. The new G.I. Bill, for example, offers tuition help, but the secretary says more immediate vocational training will also be available. Similarly, he promises more beds for transition programs, including those intended to help the 40,000 veterans released each year from prisons.

This is an especially tall order for an unwieldy bureaucracy, one with a notorious backlog of 400,000 disability claims. General Shinseki says a renewed Veterans Affairs Department must, and will, address that problem.

We believe he has the mettle to pull this off. He will need a lot of help from the White House, Congress and communities across the country. The general-turned-secretary is appealing to thousands of worthy organizations already in the field to double their efforts to help.

Our veterans shouldn’t be forced to battle on their own just to survive at home.


See also “No Longer a Soldier, Shinseki Has a New Mission” (New York Times, November 11, 2009).

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