POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Nov 11, 2010
Upon becoming President Barack Obama's secretary of veterans affairs last year, Gen. Eric Shinseki vowed to combat the difficulties of men and women finding jobs and housing after completing their military duties. Public support and private donations are needed to provide significant assistance to those honored this Veterans Day.
While Hawaii has a lower unemployment rate than the national level, Hawaii's jobless rate for veterans is 8.3 percent, 2 percentage points higher than the state's overall rate and slightly more than the national unemployment rate for veterans. Of the 5,782 homeless people in Hawaii last year, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 3,268 were sheltered and 5,514 were unsheltered.
Another recent national survey determined that 23 percent of the homeless population are veterans. Veterans who were recently discharged from the military are faced with returning to an economy with few job openings and risking homelessness.
However, HUD interviews with homeless assistance providers found that veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts "have not yet become homeless in great numbers, perhaps because it takes some years for the mental disabilities associated with war to become acute." In Phoenix, for example, the average age of homeless veterans last year was 47, down from 57 five years earlier. Many of the older vets served in Vietnam.
In an encouraging development, Shinseki, of Kauai, this week announced a program to increase services to low-income veterans and their families who are at risk of becoming homeless. The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to inform local agencies soon on how to apply for grants.
At the front of the line should be U.S. Vets, which provides housing and treatment to as many as 200 homeless veterans at a time at Kalaeloa. The organization, founded in 1993, launched a fundraising drive last month that will climax Saturday with a check from donors at the annual Patriot Walk/Run at the Waterfront at Puuloa in Ewa Beach.
"Ending homelessness for veterans and their families will require all segments of our communities to work together," first lady Michelle Obama said in supporting the new VA program.
In signing into law lodging allowances and job training for veterans, the president said in May that "no one who has served this nation in uniform should ever be living on the streets." We agree, and Hawaii citizens must be vigilant to meet the needs of the growing number of returning troops who have already given much for the country.
Americans are responsible to take care of men and women who serve in the military, Obama added, and "have a responsibility to take care of them when they come home."