A certain number of service members from nearly every war or conflict in which the United States has engaged have ended up homeless following their military service.
Thousands of World War I veterans many of them homeless camped in the nation's capital seeking bonus money. Ultimately, the government destroyed their camps.
The generation of service members most closely associated with homelessness are Vietnam-era veterans. Young men and women traumatized by their war experiences were further demoralized by the cold reception many received when they came home. Their experiences made them feel as if they didn't have a home.
According to a new report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, one in four homeless people in the United States today is a veteran. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Web site says about one-third of the homeless population served in the Armed Services. The VA says the number of homeless Vietnam-era veterans is greater than the number of service members who died during that war.
Whether it's a third or quarter of the overall homeless population, it's a shameful statistic, particularly as one considers that veterans comprise only 11 percent of the nation's adult population.
And the problem is expected to worsen. More than 400 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have turned up homeless, a phenomenon experts attribute to high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, which can result in unstable behavior and substance abuse. Long and repeated tours of duty also are a factor.
Poverty and high housing costs make the problem worse. Among 1 million veterans who served after 9/11, 72,000 pay more than half of their incomes for rent, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
While the Bush administration is quick to point out progress that has been made addressing the needs of homeless veterans, there are vast needs. Not only do these veterans need places to live, they need intensive case management to ensure their physical and mental health, substance abuse and employment issues are addressed. Women who have served in combat face added risks. Some data suggests that 40 percent of homeless female veterans from recent wars were sexually assaulted by U.S. soldiers while in the military.
The optimal outcome for any service member would be to serve his or her nation dutifully, go to college or undergo job training upon return to civilian life and become a contributing member of society. Those who are scarred physically and emotionally as a result of their service deserve a network of support to assist them. They should not be treated as castoffs. These are, after all, men and women who have worn the uniform of this nation's military and served their country.