Last Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, was Veterans Day. This week many of us are remembering those who have served and are serving in the armed forces.
Veterans are in the news this year for many good reasons, including the number who ran this year and last for public office, a spike in veteran candidates not seen since the end of World War II.
But other news of those who volunteered to serve our country is not good at all, with suicide and drug overdoses — as well as alcohol abuse — continuing to be some of the most common killers of veterans. Homelessness among veterans and those living in poverty is a national disgrace.
Veterans experience a unique set of challenges, from deployment and combat to the often-difficult process of reintegrating into civilian life after leaving the military — all of which can have significant and long-lasting effects on their mental health and well-being.
Research by National Veterans Homeless Support indicates that mental illness in veterans is higher than the national average, just over 25%, or 1 in 4 veterans. “In particular, mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder are known to be common among veterans,” the NVHS has found. “For veterans suffering from mental illness, the consequences can be dire. Mental illness may cause veterans to feel isolated or lonely, or may affect their ability to hold a steady job. Without a support system and stable employment, these individuals are then at a higher risk of homelessness and economic insecurity.”
Further, in a report released this year by the National Library of Medicine, research shows that, “Veteran suicide rates have reached their highest level in recorded history, with over 6,000 veterans dying by suicide annually,” or 52.3% higher than that of the non-veteran population.
There has been some positive news, however, with the number of veterans experiencing homelessness dropping by 43% since 2011. In our state, according to Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, the number of homeless vets dropped 83% between 2010 and 2022, going from 5,857 to 990. And nationally, the country has seen an 11% decline in homelessness among veterans between 2020 and 2022, with the Veterans Administration noting that it’s the largest drop in homelessness for veterans in more than five years.
Still, there are grim numbers to confront. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reported that more than 37,000 vets are without homes to call their own in America. Those in shelters, according to the NAEH, number 22,048, while the number of those living in woods, parks, their cars or on the street, is 15,204. The Veterans Administration has outreach and resources available to combat homelessness among our veterans. Go to va.gov/homeless/ssvf/ for information.
Under President Biden this year, the Department of Veterans Affairs delivered $163 billion in earned benefits to 6.3 million veterans and survivors, and processed a record 1.98 million disability claims.
Let’s hope that things continue to change for the better. And this week, and every week, remember those Islanders — and those everywhere — who served and are serving our country.