Far from battlefield, soldiers forced to continue fighting

Homeless veteran James Thomas, 62, who was sleeping along the Miami River, talks with officials from the Veteran's Administration during the Point In Time Homeless Census, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, in Miami.

Homeless veteran James Thomas, 62, who was sleeping along the Miami River, talks with officials from the Veteran's Administration during the Point In Time Homeless Census, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, file)

Most of us recall when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, but in the American post-war narrative, many recently retired troops have become marginalized by our government.

It’s abundantly apparent that a majority of citizens don’t even understand when both of the post-9/11 wars ended. (This writer found himself to be no different from most in that regard.) And many can’t wrap their heads around the complexities and challenges veterans can face in the transition back to civilian life.

All combat missions in the second Iraq war, Operation Iraqi Freedom, officially ended on Aug. 31, 2010, according to the New York Times; and combat officially ended for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom, the “longest” war in America’s history, on Dec. 28, 2014.

In the absence of a decisive victory in either war, the White House felt inclined to present the American public with a new narrative that would explain what winning is supposed to look like in the modern era.

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Collaboratively the Pentagon and White House have been very successful in editing out the gruesome brutality of warfare by preventing it from ever reaching the eyes and ears of the general public. Only limited access is provided to journalists in modern combat, and they have to routinely go through a prohibitive approval process to speak to any military personnel regardless of rank. Journalists embedded with soldiers in the field are not allowed to take pictures of dead soldiers or coffins.

The 2010 documentary film “The Tillman Story” is another example of the zealous lengths to which the government will go to manipulate the American public and conceal the chaos of war.

A few years ago the Phoenix, Arizona, veterans’ hospital was at the center of a nationwide scandal that loomed over the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to the publicized scandal, President Obama said in his official statement marking end of the combat mission in Afghanistan, “We pledge to give our many wounded warriors, with wounds seen and unseen, the world-class care and treatment they have earned.” Shortly thereafter, the VA was found guilty of falsifying its records, “cooking the books” to make it seem like veterans were receiving care faster than they actually were. In reality, several former service members were coping with extraordinary long wait times to receive medical services and benefits.

Furthermore, the department bureaucracy has been attributed to overruns and construction shutdowns on new facilities in an effort to keep pace with the demand for essential services. Even though Congress has responded with passing legislative reforms since the VA has been found guilty of misconduct, many veterans still feel they aren’t getting adequate care, and the wait times and quality of care are still unacceptable. As a result of their frustrating experiences, some feel the VA should become a payer of services not a provider of services. Also, critics and veteran advocates are concerned that, following the nationwide scandal, very few employees have been fired, and they feel same structural and cultural issues persist at large within the organization.

A 2014 investigation by the Dayton Daily News discovered that the VA had paid out at least $36.4 million since 2001 to settle claims resulting from substandard care either voluntarily or as part of a court action. Also, according to records obtained by the paper, the number of dead veterans totaled more than 1,000 from 2001 through the first half of 2013 as a direct result of the Department of Veterans Affairs negligence at various VA hospitals across the country.

No one who honorably served in the military should be homeless, yet veterans continue to remain overrepresented in the homeless population.

Only until recently has the federal government made the financial commitments to analyze veteran outcomes in a comprehensive study. One of the few veteran statistics that could be verified by multiple sources was in 2013, close to 50,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were either homeless or participating in crisis supportservices intended to keep them off the streets — almost triple the number in 2011.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the most recent point-in-time count concluded that as of January 2016 there were at least 13,000 veterans that were still homeless. The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated the point-in-time count in January of last year to be closer to 40,000 homeless veterans across America.

Post-9/11 veterans are also still having a tougher time than the civilian population in finding gainful employment and female veterans continue to struggle the most with unemployment compared to their male counterparts.

Just imagine surviving the horrors of combat and returning home as a wounded warrior only to be mistreated and abused by the government you put your life on the line to serve. The Iraq and Afghanistan veterans had to cope with the most deployments in American history. Up to this point, how lawmakers choose to salute our soldiers contradicts with the country’s core values of truth and honor. It has been long overdue for soldiers to receive the necessary support from the government they so honorably served and protected.

Jason Kaye is a writer residing in Philadelphia.

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