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Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters

by : Mark Benjamin
Thursday December 9, 2004 - 18:44

By Mark Benjamin

Washington, DC, U.S. veterans from the war in Iraq are beginning to show up at homeless shelters around the country, and advocates fear they are the leading edge of a new generation of homeless vets not seen since the Vietnam era.

"When we already have people from Iraq on the streets, my God," said Linda Boone, executive director of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. "I have talked to enough (shelters) to know we are getting them. It is happening and this nation is not prepared for that."

"I drove off in my truck. I packed my stuff. I lived out of my truck for a while," Seabees Petty Officer Luis Arellano, 34, said in a telephone interview from a homeless shelter near March Air Force Base in California run by U.S.VETS, the largest organization in the country dedicated to helping homeless veterans.

Arellano said he lived out of his truck on and off for three months after returning from Iraq in September 2003. "One day you have a home and the next day you are on the streets," he said.

In Iraq, shrapnel nearly severed his left thumb. He still has trouble moving it and shrapnel "still comes out once in a while," Arellano said. He is left handed.

Arellano said he felt pushed out of the military too quickly after getting back from Iraq without medical attention he needed for his hand — and as he would later learn, his mind.

"It was more of a rush. They put us in a warehouse for a while. They treated us like cattle," Arellano said about how the military treated him on his return to the United States.

"It is all about numbers. Instead of getting quality care, they were trying to get everybody demobilized during a certain time frame. If you had a problem, they said, ’Let the (Department of Veterans Affairs) take care of it.’"

The Pentagon has acknowledged some early problems and delays in treating soldiers returning from Iraq but says the situation has been fixed.

A gunner’s mate for 16 years, Arellano said he adjusted after serving in the first Gulf War. But after returning from Iraq, depression drove him to leave his job at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He got divorced.

He said that after being quickly pushed out of the military, he could not get help from the VA because of long delays.

"I felt, as well as others (that the military said) ’We can’t take care of you on active duty.’ We had to sign an agreement that we would follow up with the VA," said Arellano.

"When we got there, the VA was totally full. They said, ’We’ll call you.’ But I developed depression."

He left his job and wandered for three months, sometimes living in his truck.

Nearly 300,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, and almost half served during the Vietnam era, according to the Homeless Veterans coalition, a consortium of community-based homeless-veteran service providers. While some experts have questioned the degree to which mental trauma from combat causes homelessness, a large number of veterans live with the long-term effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse, according to the coalition.

Some homeless-veteran advocates fear that similar combat experiences in Vietnam and Iraq mean that these first few homeless veterans from Iraq are the crest of a wave.

"This is what happened with the Vietnam vets. I went to Vietnam," said John Keaveney, chief operating officer of New Directions, a shelter and drug-and-alcohol treatment program for veterans in Los Angeles. That city has an estimated 27,000 homeless veterans, the largest such population in the nation. "It is like watching history being repeated," Keaveney said.

Data from the Department of Veterans Affairs shows that as of last July, nearly 28,000 veterans from Iraq sought health care from the VA. One out of every five was diagnosed with a mental disorder, according to the VA. An Army study in the New England Journal of Medicine in July showed that 17 percent of service members returning from Iraq met screening criteria for major depression, generalized anxiety disorder or PTSD.

Asked whether he might have PTSD, Arrellano, the Seabees petty officer who lived out of his truck, said: "I think I do, because I get nightmares. I still remember one of the guys who was killed." He said he gets $100 a month from the government for the wound to his hand.

Lance Cpl. James Claybon Brown Jr., 23, is staying at a shelter run by U.S.VETS in Los Angeles. He fought in Iraq for 6 months with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines and later in Afghanistan with another unit. He said the fighting in Iraq was sometimes intense.

"We were pretty much all over the place," Brown said. "It was really heavy gunfire, supported by mortar and tanks, the whole nine (yards)."

Brown acknowledged the mental stress of war, particularly after Marines inadvertently killed civilians at road blocks. He thinks his belief in God helped him come home with a sound mind.

"We had a few situations where, I guess, people were trying to get out of the country. They would come right at us and they would not stop," Brown said. "We had to open fire on them. It was really tough. A lot of soldiers, like me, had trouble with that."

"That was the hardest part," Brown said. "Not only were there men, but there were women and children — really little children. There would be babies with arms blown off. It was something hard to live with."

Brown said he got an honorable discharge with a good conduct medal from the Marines in July and went home to Dayton, Ohio. But he soon drifted west to California "pretty much to start over," he said.

Brown said his experience with the VA was positive, but he has struggled to find work and is staying with U.S.VETS to save money. He said he might go back to school.

Advocates said seeing homeless veterans from Iraq should cause alarm. Around one-fourth of all homeless Americans are veterans, and more than 75 percent of them have some sort of mental or substance abuse problem, often PTSD, according to the Homeless Veterans coalition.

More troubling, experts said, is that mental problems are emerging as a major casualty cluster, particularly from the war in Iraq where the enemy is basically everywhere and blends in with the civilian population, and death can come from any direction at any time.

Interviews and visits to homeless shelters around the Unites States show the number of homeless veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan so far is limited. Of the last 7,500 homeless veterans served by the VA, 50 had served in Iraq. Keaveney, from New Directions in West Los Angeles, said he is treating two homeless veterans from the Army’s elite Ranger battalion at his location. U.S.VETS, the largest organization in the country dedicated to helping homeless veterans, found nine veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan in a quick survey of nine shelters. Others, like the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training in Baltimore, said they do not currently have any veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan in their 170 beds set aside for emergency or transitional housing.

Peter Dougherty, director of Homeless Veterans Programs at the VA, said services for veterans at risk of becoming homeless have improved exponentially since the Vietnam era. Over the past 30 years, the VA has expanded from 170 hospitals, adding 850 clinics and 206 veteran centers with an increasing emphasis on mental health. The VA also supports around 300 homeless veteran centers like the ones run by U.S.VETS, a partially non-profit organization.

"You probably have close to 10 times the access points for service than you did 30 years ago," Dougherty said. "We may be catching a lot of these folks who are coming back with mental illness or substance abuse" before they become homeless in the first place. Dougherty said the VA serves around 100,000 homeless veterans each year.

But Boone’s group says that nearly 500,000 veterans are homeless at some point in any given year, so the VA is only serving 20 percent of them.

Roslyn Hannibal-Booker, director of development at the Maryland veterans center in Baltimore, said her organization has begun to get inquiries from veterans from Iraq and their worried families. "We are preparing for Iraq," Hannibal-Booker said. (UPI)


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> Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters ... the deserve it
Friday December 10 - 09:24 - Posted by b40452834cedb2b2...

Guess what. Those guys/gals are responsible for the thousands of homless Iraqis! We don’t care
about these vet’s. Bring them to justice in the international court for war crimes - prison will solve
this "homeless" problem.

Think before you join a phony war with a phony criminal administration.

> Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters ... the deserve it
Friday December 17 - 16:45 - Posted by f02a09d3c361867f...

No, you cannot blame soldiers who were doing what they were told to do. You certainly can blame the "phony criminal administration" for putting them in that position, and some of those guys should be brought up on charges of international terrorism.

> Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters ... the deserve it
Monday December 20 - 00:41 - Posted by 0408e2ed9af949c5...

Please remember the admonishment of Jesus on the cross when he said: "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do." Those men and women went to Iraq at great danger to themselves with the belief that they were freeing a people of a cruel and repressive government. Learning the truth once they were there in conjunction with following orders that went against their own moral beliefs are why they are now homeless. They are sick at heart and very few in this country care and/or understand enough to help them heal.

Winnie Smith (Woman Vietnam Veteran)

> Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters ... the deserve it
Sunday January 9 - 16:09 - Posted by 800afb8151bb885d...

That’s awfully judgemental there. Don’t blame the poor soldier who didn’t have even a fraction of a second to think of the right thing to do. In that fraction of not enough time you choose one way or the other, whether or not to see this person charging towards you as friend or foe. Why do you think there are so many with mental problems? Because they should have known when they joined for the college scholarship that this would happen? Because they knew exaclty who they were going to fight or kill and when and where while they were still joining to protect the country they loved should it be attacked? Blame the guy who was being reported to. The guy who made all the decisions about going to war and what excuses he would use.

> Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters ... the deserve it
Thursday January 20 - 20:06 - Posted by 0c047485282c1ce8...

Let us hope you get a chance to walk in their boots for a mile before you go casting any more aspersion. You sound like a rookie in life.

I don’t know of any people who can make such a blanket statement about a group of people except ignorant ones. Let’s hope you get a chance to see another side of life before you get much older.

you should be ashamed of yourself; talking through your hat about subject matter that you do not seem very well acquainted with.

> Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters ... the deserve it
Friday July 22 - 13:47 - Posted by 6a5413e5781ec3a8...

Kiss my ass crackhead.


> Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters
Saturday December 11 - 05:29 - Posted by 57cfb874fc1ab555...

I Support the Men and Women who serve in the Armed Forces. I have a Small Problem Helping them. It is Logistically easier to Deprogram the Veterans than to Deprogram the GOP FEAR Campaign Survivors. I tried to Elect an Veteran to Get US out of this Mess and Save the Rest of OUR Armed Forces, But I Failed. Remember the Best Quality of a Leader is Experience and the ONLY thing George is Experienced at is Failure. Numerous Oil Companies over 30 Years can attest to that. You want to hear some pretty sad qoutes from George go to Toostupidtobepresident.com. Because of your article, I will contact the VA to lend support and Employment to these Young men and Women. I knew it was coming with nearly 10,000 Wounded/ Amputees returning to US, So Far. These men are trained to Fight for US, We are responsible for Where/When/Who/Why and When they Come HOME.

> Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters
Saturday December 11 - 14:35 - Posted by 784769e5d17b357e...

So Wheres My Comment, HUH?

> Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters
Thursday December 16 - 05:29 - Posted by c4abec7437075d84...

Does anyone have an answer?
I am a veteran of the American war in Vietnam.
I was a medic and have been been dealing with PTSD ever since.
I oppose the war in Iraq.
I oppose the commander and chief.
I am torn.
I read stories about the soldiers coming home with problems.
I feel sorry for the soldiers and their traumas.
I can’t fully support our troops.
I canceled my life time membership to the VFW.
I am fed-up with the veterans who don’t want to say no to the Iraq war.
I have been going to the local VA hospital for the past 15 years.
I have made progress over the past decade.
I was starting to feel better about my self.
Then this damn war came along.
I tried to put things into perspective.
I knew the war would be a mess.
I wrote letters to the editor,
I wrote poems.
I joined vet groups that opposed war.
I voted for the loser.
But it didn’t mean anything.
The war continues.
The troops continue to die and get wounded.
I talked with my shrink at the VA.
I became very sad and tears came to my eyes.
I want to cry everyday.
I am mad we are once again creating disabled veterans.
I am sad because no one listens to those of us who have been disabled by war.
I am mad I can do nothing to stop the chaos.
I want to send my mind to some mental woods.
What Do I Do?
My shrink and I will grow old together.
There are no answers.
Just radical acceptance of reality.
It’s not satisfying to the soul.

Tim Connelly
a veteran of the lost war

> Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters
Thursday December 16 - 07:29 - Posted by b40452834cedb2b2...

Please go to: veteransforcommonsense.org. this is a site for veterans like yourself. It may make you feel better about veterans and what they are doing about Iraq and the unjust war being fought there.

> Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters
Saturday December 18 - 19:13 - Posted by 9c53fd0ee856f638...

I don’t think it’s so much the stress of combat as the the stress of commiting war crimes that’s making returning veterans feel bad. The veterans now they’re on the same page in history as the japanese soldiers butchering their way through China during the 30’s and 40’s even if nobody is going to stand up and admit they enjoyed raping defenseless women with their bayonet in front of their family.
The knowledge that you are a worthless sack of murdering shit is enough to break the heart of anyone.

> Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters
Sunday December 19 - 07:47 - Posted by 19ca1c94fad976d8...

You should really allow yourself a smidgen of compassion. It is, indeed, horrible to have committed crimes. But are you so sure that you don’t have in yourself the capacity for atrocity? And do you think that all of the American soldiers returning home are guilty of war crimes?

> Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters
Monday December 20 - 07:31 - Posted by 460c915de771bc41...

America has a volunteer army. I do not weep for people who volunteer to kill others. When the draft does occur again in this country, then the mourning can truly begin. The masses never take hold of the fact that the masses are expendable. It does not matter if it is by the orders of an ultra nationalist facista or a globalist one world banker, the blood will be spilled to protect the lives of those who lead. Since I live in the land that supposedly has in residence the leader of the free world, I must fulfill my Patriotic part to support our troops as they foolishy sacrifice their lives for my convenience.

"Shut up you miserable volunteers, and go get my oil! I don’t want to see $3/gallon gas until we have sent all the 12th graders that can hold a gun to the Middle East!"

> Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters
Thursday January 20 - 20:16 - Posted by 0c047485282c1ce8...

Do you participate in the system? Do you work for it? Do you drive a vehicle, heat your home, participate in the energy grid? If the answer to any of these is "yes" then you share in the responsibility for the bloodshed, even if you do not personally agree with it.

Now, what judgement do you have for yourself, grasshopper? Or are you too holy to be held responsible for anything and righteous enough to stand in judgement of others?

Your hatred tells more about you than any of your words on this post.

You should learn to listen and quit barking.

> Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters
Friday February 25 - 07:07 - Posted by 460c915de771bc41...

HA! I guess you’re on the grid too you as I can see the bloodstains from the electrons on my CRT! Your self righteous judgmental post classifies as a guilt ridden monkey who cannot fathom laughing at the foolish deaths of other clueless monkeys. I’m not responsible for this mess and no wackaloon revolutionary can tell me that I am. The system is, and the system will be. Maybe not this one ad infinitum but there will always be a system. Your argument that by living in the system one is guilty of it’s crimes. You would condemn the slave for the sins of the master. You are the self-righteous fool.

> Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters
Thursday January 20 - 20:11 - Posted by 0c047485282c1ce8...

Not you, it seems. You are heartless. Be careful that your words and feelings do not come back to haunt you someday.

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