Homeless Iraq Vets Showing Up at Shelters

Bob Hubbard

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[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Homeless Iraq Vets Showing Up at Shelters
By Mark Benjamin
United Press International
[/font] [font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Tuesday 07 December 2004[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Washington, DC - U.S. veterans from the war in Iraq are beginning to show up at homeless shelters around the country, and advocates fear they are the leading edge of a new generation of homeless vets not seen since the Vietnam era. [/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "When we already have people from Iraq on the streets, my God," said Linda Boone, executive director of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. "I have talked to enough (shelters) to know we are getting them. It is happening and this nation is not prepared for that."[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "I drove off in my truck. I packed my stuff. I lived out of my truck for a while," Seabees Petty Officer Luis Arellano, 34, said in a telephone interview from a homeless shelter near March Air Force Base in California run by U.S.VETS, the largest organization in the country dedicated to helping homeless veterans. [/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Arellano said he lived out of his truck on and off for three months after returning from Iraq in September 2003. "One day you have a home and the next day you are on the streets," he said.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] In Iraq, shrapnel nearly severed his left thumb. He still has trouble moving it and shrapnel "still comes out once in a while," Arellano said. He is left handed.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Arellano said he felt pushed out of the military too quickly after getting back from Iraq without medical attention he needed for his hand - and as he would later learn, his mind. [/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "It was more of a rush. They put us in a warehouse for a while. They treated us like cattle," Arellano said about how the military treated him on his return to the United States.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "It is all about numbers. Instead of getting quality care, they were trying to get everybody demobilized during a certain time frame. If you had a problem, they said, 'Let the (Department of Veterans Affairs) take care of it.'"[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] The Pentagon has acknowledged some early problems and delays in treating soldiers returning from Iraq but says the situation has been fixed.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] A gunner's mate for 16 years, Arellano said he adjusted after serving in the first Gulf War. But after returning from Iraq, depression drove him to leave his job at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He got divorced. [/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] He said that after being quickly pushed out of the military, he could not get help from the VA because of long delays.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "I felt, as well as others (that the military said) 'We can't take care of you on active duty.' We had to sign an agreement that we would follow up with the VA," said Arellano.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "When we got there, the VA was totally full. They said, 'We'll call you.' But I developed depression."[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] He left his job and wandered for three months, sometimes living in his truck.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Nearly 300,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, and almost half served during the Vietnam era, according to the Homeless Veterans coalition, a consortium of community-based homeless-veteran service providers. While some experts have questioned the degree to which mental trauma from combat causes homelessness, a large number of veterans live with the long-term effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse, according to the coalition. [/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Some homeless-veteran advocates fear that similar combat experiences in Vietnam and Iraq mean that these first few homeless veterans from Iraq are the crest of a wave. [/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "This is what happened with the Vietnam vets. I went to Vietnam," said John Keaveney, chief operating officer of New Directions, a shelter and drug-and-alcohol treatment program for veterans in Los Angeles. That city has an estimated 27,000 homeless veterans, the largest such population in the nation. "It is like watching history being repeated," Keaveney said.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Data from the Department of Veterans Affairs shows that as of last July, nearly 28,000 veterans from Iraq sought health care from the VA. One out of every five was diagnosed with a mental disorder, according to the VA. An Army study in the New England Journal of Medicine in July showed that 17 percent of service members returning from Iraq met screening criteria for major depression, generalized anxiety disorder or PTSD.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Asked whether he might have PTSD, Arrellano, the Seabees petty officer who lived out of his truck, said: "I think I do, because I get nightmares. I still remember one of the guys who was killed." He said he gets $100 a month from the government for the wound to his hand. [/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Lance Cpl. James Claybon Brown Jr., 23, is staying at a shelter run by U.S.VETS in Los Angeles. He fought in Iraq for 6 months with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines and later in Afghanistan with another unit. He said the fighting in Iraq was sometimes intense. [/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "We were pretty much all over the place," Brown said. "It was really heavy gunfire, supported by mortar and tanks, the whole nine (yards)."[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Brown acknowledged the mental stress of war, particularly after Marines inadvertently killed civilians at road blocks. He thinks his belief in God helped him come home with a sound mind.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "We had a few situations where, I guess, people were trying to get out of the country. They would come right at us and they would not stop," Brown said. "We had to open fire on them. It was really tough. A lot of soldiers, like me, had trouble with that." [/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "That was the hardest part," Brown said. "Not only were there men, but there were women and children - really little children. There would be babies with arms blown off. It was something hard to live with."[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Brown said he got an honorable discharge with a good conduct medal from the Marines in July and went home to Dayton, Ohio. But he soon drifted west to California "pretty much to start over," he said. [/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Brown said his experience with the VA was positive, but he has struggled to find work and is staying with U.S.VETS to save money. He said he might go back to school. [/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Advocates said seeing homeless veterans from Iraq should cause alarm. Around one-fourth of all homeless Americans are veterans, and more than 75 percent of them have some sort of mental or substance abuse problem, often PTSD, according to the Homeless Veterans coalition.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] More troubling, experts said, is that mental problems are emerging as a major casualty cluster, particularly from the war in Iraq where the enemy is basically everywhere and blends in with the civilian population, and death can come from any direction at any time.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Interviews and visits to homeless shelters around the Unites States show the number of homeless veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan so far is limited. Of the last 7,500 homeless veterans served by the VA, 50 had served in Iraq. Keaveney, from New Directions in West Los Angeles, said he is treating two homeless veterans from the Army's elite Ranger battalion at his location. U.S.VETS, the largest organization in the country dedicated to helping homeless veterans, found nine veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan in a quick survey of nine shelters. Others, like the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training in Baltimore, said they do not currently have any veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan in their 170 beds set aside for emergency or transitional housing.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Peter Dougherty, director of Homeless Veterans Programs at the VA, said services for veterans at risk of becoming homeless have improved exponentially since the Vietnam era. Over the past 30 years, the VA has expanded from 170 hospitals, adding 850 clinics and 206 veteran centers with an increasing emphasis on mental health. The VA also supports around 300 homeless veteran centers like the ones run by U.S.VETS, a partially non-profit organization.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "You probably have close to 10 times the access points for service than you did 30 years ago," Dougherty said. "We may be catching a lot of these folks who are coming back with mental illness or substance abuse" before they become homeless in the first place. Dougherty said the VA serves around 100,000 homeless veterans each year. [/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] But Boone's group says that nearly 500,000 veterans are homeless at some point in any given year, so the VA is only serving 20 percent of them. [/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Roslyn Hannibal-Booker, director of development at the Maryland veterans center in Baltimore, said her organization has begun to get inquiries from veterans from Iraq and their worried families. "We are preparing for Iraq," Hannibal-Booker said.

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif](In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. t r u t h o u t has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is t r u t h o u t endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)
Bob Hubbard

Bob Hubbard

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[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]A Flood of Troubled Soldiers Is in the Offing, Experts Predict
By Scott Shane
The New York Times
[/font] [font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Thursday 16 December 2004[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] WASHINGTON - The nation's hard-pressed health care system for veterans is facing a potential deluge of tens of thousands of soldiers returning from Iraq with serious mental health problems brought on by the stress and carnage of war, veterans' advocates and military doctors say.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] An Army study shows that about one in six soldiers in Iraq report symptoms of major depression, serious anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, a proportion that some experts believe could eventually climb to one in three, the rate ultimately found in Vietnam veterans. Because about one million American troops have served so far in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Pentagon figures, some experts predict that the number eventually requiring mental health treatment could exceed 100,000.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "There's a train coming that's packed with people who are going to need help for the next 35 years," said Stephen L. Robinson, a 20-year Army veteran who is now the executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, an advocacy group. Mr. Robinson wrote a report in September on the psychological toll of the war for the Center for American Progress, a Washington research group.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "I have a very strong sense that the mental health consequences are going to be the medical story of this war," said Dr. Stephen C. Joseph, who served as the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs from 1994 to 1997.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] What was planned as a short and decisive intervention in Iraq has become a grueling counterinsurgency that has put American troops into sustained close-quarters combat on a scale not seen since the Vietnam War. Psychiatrists say the kind of fighting seen in the recent retaking of Falluja - spooky urban settings with unlimited hiding places; the impossibility of telling Iraqi friend from Iraqi foe; the knowledge that every stretch of road may conceal an explosive device - is tailored to produce the adrenaline-gone-haywire reactions that leave lasting emotional scars.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] And in no recent conflict have so many soldiers faced such uncertainty about how long they will be deployed. Veterans say the repeated extensions of duty in Iraq are emotionally battering, even for the most stoical of warriors.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Military and Department of Veterans Affairs officials say most military personnel will survive the war without serious mental issues and note that the one million troops include many who have not participated in ground combat, including sailors on ships. By comparison with troops in Vietnam, the officials said, soldiers in Iraq get far more mental health support and are likely to return to a more understanding public.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] But the duration and intensity of the war have doctors at veterans hospitals across the country worried about the coming caseload.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "We're seeing an increasing number of guys with classic post-traumatic stress symptoms," said Dr. Evan Kanter, a psychiatrist at the Puget Sound veterans hospital in Seattle. "We're all anxiously waiting for a flood that we expect is coming. And I feel stretched right now."[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] A September report by the Government Accountability Office found that officials at six of seven Veterans Affairs medical facilities surveyed said they "may not be able to meet" increased demand for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Officers who served in Iraq say the unrelenting tension of the counterinsurgency will produce that demand.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "In the urban terrain, the enemy is everywhere, across the street, in that window, up that alley," said Paul Rieckhoff, who served as a platoon leader with the Florida Army National Guard for 10 months, going on hundreds of combat patrols around Baghdad. "It's a fishbowl. You never feel safe. You never relax."[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] In his platoon of 38 people, 8 were divorced while in Iraq or since they returned in February, Mr. Rieckhoff said. One man in his 120-person company killed himself after coming home.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "Too many guys are drinking," said Mr. Rieckhoff, who started the group Operation Truth to support the troops. "A lot have a hard time finding a job. I think the system is vastly under-prepared for the flood of mental health problems."[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Capt. Tim Wilson, an Army chaplain serving outside Mosul, said he counseled 8 to 10 soldiers a week for combat stress. Captain Wilson said he was impressed with the resilience of his 700-strong battalion but added that fierce battles have produced turbulent emotions.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "There are usually two things they are dealing with," said Captain Wilson, a Southern Baptist from South Carolina. "Either being shot at and not wanting to get shot at again, or after shooting someone, asking, 'Did I commit murder?' or 'Is God going to forgive me?' or 'How am I going to be when I get home?' "[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] When all goes as it should, the life-saving medical services available to combat units like Captain Wilson's may actually swell the ranks of psychological casualties. Of wounded soldiers who are alive when medics arrive, 98 percent now survive, said Dr. Michael E. Kilpatrick, the Pentagon's deputy director of deployment health support. But they must come to terms not only with emotional scars but the literal scars of amputated limbs and disfiguring injuries.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Through the end of September, the Army had evacuated 885 troops from Iraq for psychiatric reasons, including some who had threatened or tried suicide. But those are only the most extreme cases. Often, the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder do not emerge until months after discharge.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "During the war, they don't have the leisure to focus on how they're feeling," said Sonja Batten, a psychologist at the Baltimore veterans hospital. "It's when they get back and find that their relationships are suffering and they can't hold down a job that they realize they have a problem."[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Robert E. Brown was proud to be in the first wave of Marines invading Iraq last year. But Mr. Brown has also found himself in the first ranks of returning soldiers to be unhinged by what they experienced.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] He served for six months as a Marine chaplain's assistant, counseling wounded soldiers, organizing makeshift memorial services and filling in on raids. He knew he was in trouble by the time he was on a ship home, when the sound of a hatch slamming would send him diving to the floor.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] After he came home, he began drinking heavily and saw his marriage fall apart, Mr. Brown said. He was discharged and returned to his hometown, Peru, Ind., where he slept for two weeks in his Ford Explorer, surrounded by mementos of the war.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "I just couldn't stand to be with anybody," said Mr. Brown, 35, sitting at his father's kitchen table.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Dr. Batten started him on the road to recovery by giving his torment a name, an explanation and a treatment plan. But 18 months after leaving Iraq, he takes medication for depression and anxiety and returns in dreams to the horrors of his war nearly every night.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] The scenes repeat in ghastly alternation, he says: the Iraqi girl, 3 or 4 years old, her skull torn open by a stray round; the Kuwaiti man imprisoned for 13 years by Saddam Hussein, cowering in madness and covered in waste; the young American soldier, desperate to escape the fighting, who sat in the latrine and fired his M-16 through his arm; the Iraqi missile speeding in as troops scramble in the dark for cover.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "That's the one that just stops my heart," said Mr. Brown. "I'm in my rack sleeping and there's a school bus full of explosives coming down at me and there's nowhere to go."[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Such costs of war, personal and financial, are not revealed by official casualty counts. "People see the figure of 1,200 dead," said Dr. Kanter, of Seattle, referring to the number of Americans killed in Iraq. "Much more rarely do they see the number of seriously wounded. And almost never do they hear anything at all about the psychiatric casualties."[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] As of Wednesday 5,229 Americans have been seriously wounded in Iraq. Through July, nearly 31,000 veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom had applied for disability benefits for injuries or psychological ailments, according to the Department Veterans Affairs.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Every war produces its medical signature, said Dr. Kenneth Craig Hyams, a former Navy physician now at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Soldiers came back from the Civil War with "irritable heart." In World War I there was "shell shock." World War II vets had "battle fatigue." The troubles of Vietnam veterans led to the codification of post-traumatic stress disorder.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] In combat, the fight-or-flight reflex floods the body with adrenaline, permitting impressive feats of speed and endurance. But after spending weeks or months in this altered state, some soldiers cannot adjust to a peaceful setting. Like Mr. Brown, for whom a visit to a crowded bank at lunch became an ordeal, they display what doctors call "hypervigilance." They sit in restaurants with their backs to a wall; a car's backfire can transport them back to Baghdad.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] To prevent such damage, the Army has deployed "combat stress control units" in Iraq to provide treatment quickly to soldiers suffering from emotional overload, keeping them close to the healing camaraderie of their unit.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "We've found through long experience that this is best treated with sleep, rest, food, showers and a clean uniform, if that is possible," said Dr. Thomas J. Burke, an Army psychiatrist who oversees mental health policy at the Department of Defense. "If they get counseling to tell them they are not crazy, they will often get better rapidly."[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] To detect signs of trouble, the Department of Defense gives soldiers pre-deployment and post-deployment health questionnaires. Seven of 17 questions to soldiers leaving Iraq seek signs of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] But some reports suggest that such well-intentioned policies falter in the field. During his time as a platoon leader in Iraq, Mr. Rieckhoff said, he never saw a combat stress control unit. "I never heard of them until I came back," he said.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] And the health screens have run up against an old enemy of military medicine: soldiers who cover up their symptoms. In July 2003, as Jeffrey Lucey, a Marine reservist from Belchertown, Mass., prepared to leave Iraq after six months as a truck driver, he at first intended to report traumatic memories of seeing corpses, his parents, Kevin and Joyce Lucey, said. But when a supervisor suggested that such candor might delay his return home, Mr. Lucey played down his problems.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] At home, he spiraled downhill, haunted by what he had seen and began to have delusions about having killed unarmed Iraqis. In June, at 23, he hanged himself with a hose in the basement of the family home.[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] "Other marines have verified to us that it is a subtle understanding which exists that if you want to go home you do not report any problems," Mr. Lucey's parents wrote in an e-mail message. "Jeff's perception, which is shared by others, is that to seek help is to admit that you are weak."[/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] Dr. Kilpatrick, of the Pentagon, acknowledges the problem, saying that National Guardsmen and Reservists in particular have shown an "abysmal" level of candor in the screenings. "We still have a long ways to go," he said. "The warrior ethos is that there are no imperfections."

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif](In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. t r u t h o u t has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is t r u t h o u t endorsed or sponsored by the originator.) [/font]

[font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/121704X.shtml


Black Belt
Oct 31, 2004
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This is so sad. I am getting out of the military in about 5 months and I have had a lot of friends get out for these same reasons. My wife is graduating nursing school right before I get out and she is going to specialize in community mental health. She was told this type of thing was going to start happening and she felt motivated to help the best way she could. It really breaks my heart to see all the homeless veterens on the side of the road. I hope to eventually open up my own shelter back in my hometown one day. Thanks Kaith for making people aware of this.

Be blessed,


This is depressing, and disgusting. These men and women are finding out just how little use our society has for them once they've been ground up fighting for corporate interests.

The stealthy class war that conservatives have waged for decades continues unabated.