Excerpt from last chapter of Dark Side of the Army:
Before I detail my vision for another veteran organization, I believe it is first necessary to highlight the unique problems facing our veterans, and secondly, to paint a broad picture of the current available veteran services in order to contrast why our organization, VR&R, is unique and needed.
Today, there are four critical problems facing our veterans: unemployment, homelessness, substance abuse, and suicide; and for many veterans all four of these problems can be traced back and boiled down to one – the failure or inability to reintegrate back into society. First off, veteran suicide is triple the national average. Right now more than twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day, while many more are thinking about it. Since the average veteran suicide rate of twenty-two a day is based on information only from twenty-one states, and does not include California, Texas, or Illinois, for example, the veteran suicide rate is frighteningly much worse. Secondly, one in four veterans between ages 18-25 meet the criteria for substance abuse disorder, and an estimated 75% of homeless veterans struggle with substance abuse. Thirdly, approximately one in ten homeless are veterans, while many more struggle on the verge of homelessness. I think most will agree with me that it is a dark day for this country when those who fought for this country are forced into sleeping on the streets. Finally, young veteran unemployment is also triple the national average. As of March 2014, the unemployment rate for veterans between the ages of 18-24 exceeded 21%, and for veterans between the ages of 25-34, unemployment was also double digits. Unfortunately, many veterans are not able to even find a job because the economy is in the hole and stalled, jobs have been outsourced, already one out of seven Americans are either unemployed or underemployed, and, on an individual level, many veterans lack transferable skills or transportation, and/or struggle with some type of mental disorder or sobriety. No job means no money. No money leads to every other problem, including the loss of a place to stay, transportation, phone, and, eventually, relationships. Everyone knows the poor man has no friends. All this loss throws a veteran deeper into loneliness, depression, and shame, which can then lead to feelings of failure and abandonment, which can then lead to hate and disgust. These feelings can be so overwhelming that suicide often seems the only or best way out. That downward spiraling and deep dark hole of severe suicidal depression is something I know all too well because I’ve been there. Looking forward, these problems are only likely to get worse because tens of thousands of new veterans will be entering the workforce over the next year. The Army alone is scheduled to hand out pink slips to thirty thousand soldiers before the year 2016. Having personally struggled with suicide, homelessness, employment, and substance abuse, not only am I very sensitive to this emergency before us today, but I am extremely burdened and determined to tackle these problems. Furthermore, I believe these four birds can be killed with one stone, especially because they are all related. Towards that end, all income from this book has been pledged towards establishing a unique veteran center and organization dedicated towards providing housing, training, and employment for struggling veterans, with the long-term mission of transitioning homeless veterans into homeowners.
Since exiting the military almost five years ago, I have spent significant time studying veteran organizations, community services, and rehabilitative centers from California to Florida analyzing what works and what is needed. I even spent more than twelve months experimenting being homeless, with more than two weeks under the stars. Most of my homeless experience involved living and volunteering with various organizations, to include ‘sober living homes’ in California, Salvation Army in Miami, several faith-based rehabilitation homeless shelter centers, and a veteran’s center in Jacksonville, Florida. The good news is that rehabilitation centers and transitional housing for veterans are usually easy to find and get into. However, that’s changing as more and more slip into poverty under a struggling economy. The bad news is that the number of veterans being successfully reintegrated back into society is low, and the majority of struggling veterans are not getting the help they need. Even worse, only a rare few organizations in America are actually addressing the root causes of suicide, homelessness, unemployment, and substance abuse. Just as we can never expect to destroy a weed without first destroying the roots, we can never expect to solve a problem without first addressing the issue or issues leading towards that problem. Similarly, unless we address the specific problems behind veteran suicide, substance abuse, homelessness, or unemployment in the first place, real success in suicide prevention, rehabilitation, or successful reintegration into society is virtually impossible.
According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center in 2008, a strong relationship was found between unemployment and suicide, and history has shown that economic trouble always leads to a spike in suicide. According to numerous studies the vast majority committing or attempting suicide suffer from major depression, and depression is the strongest risk factor for suicide. Also, according to the Violent Death Reporting System in 2004, approximately 73% of suicides tested positive for either alcohol or drugs. Traditionally, churches have been a pillar of support within communities, and studies do show that depression, suicide, homelessness, and unemployment are very low among church attendees. Unfortunately today, churches are so fancy that no poor person dare step foot in one for fear of embarrassment and shame, and many veterans have become anti-social and reclusive. By ourselves, we are weak, but there is strength in numbers. Even within the most miserable of jobs there is a level of comfort and support among coworkers. Therefore, if we are going to truly tackle veteran suicide in this stalled economy, we must become more creative in rehabilitating and reintegrating veterans back into society. Most veterans would not be suicidal, depressed, or struggling with homelessness if they simply had satisfactory or decent employment. Unfortunately today, suicidal veterans are simply prescribed pills, and the homeless are simply given a bed. I have only found two organizations directly offering the long-term support necessary to reintegrate veterans back into the workforce. While the status quo is helping many, judging by the high veteran unemployment, homelessness, substance abuse, and suicide rates, it’s clear the status quo needs critical improvement.
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