One million veterans are homeless, and many of the Vietnam-era vets on the streets are still suffering the effects of war, counselors say.
"The so-called `Vietnam syndrome' will never be behind us as long as one in three of the homeless are veterans and the majority are Vietnam vets," said David F. Pye, executive director of the North Shore Veterans Counseling Services in Beverly, Mass.Pye was one of 19 speakers at hearings on the concerns of Vietnam-era veterans held by the House Veterans' Affairs oversight and investigation subcommittee Wednesday.
Jerry Washington, executive director of Base Camp, a Nashville veterans assistance center, compared displaced veterans to refugees. He complained that the United States is far less generous to the homeless in its streets than to refugees in Iraq and other countries.
"It is reasonable to characterize many homeless veterans as `refugees,' displaced by war, with no country that will accept him and no nation that will provide him with asylum," Washington said.
He said 75 percent of homeless combat veterans suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder, the psychological difficulties that those who have gone through war have in adjusting to normal life. There is a 45 percent incidence of substance abuse, he said.
Ralph Cooper, executive director of Veterans Benefits Clearinghouse in Roxbury, Mass., agreed with an estimate that there are 3 million homeless Americans, one-third of them veterans.
"And we can expect those Desert Storm veterans that are facing unemployment and lack of housing to add to the horrific statistics," he said.
The Census Bureau said it counted 228,000 homeless people in its 1990 enumeration but concedes the figure was low.
Patrick W. Quigley, executive director of the Buffalo and Erie County Private Industry Council in New York, cited Labor Department figures that 22 percent to 26 percent of dislocated workers are veterans.
Vietnam-era veterans are "among the first groups to pay the price which economic downturns exact" because many lack viable skills, he said.
"Vietnam veterans as a group have higher incidence of substance abuse, incarceration, emotional problems, homelessness, divorce and poverty than many other populations," said Dr. Mary E. Brady of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center for Mental Retardation in Waltham, Mass.
Brady cited a survey of New England Vietnam veterans showing 19 percent of their children have a birth defect or learning or behavioral problem, compared with 12 percent to 15 percent for all U.S. children.
Some with emotional problems are the children of a parent with stress disorder, she said. Birth defects also have been linked to a parent's exposure to Agent Orange, the herbicide widely used in Vietnam that contains dioxin, a toxic chemical believed to cause various kinds of cancer and other diseases.