Good Charity Inc | Important Issues Facing American Veterans
July 6th, 2013 by Brian Maiorana
“Whether you left the service in 2009 or 1949, we will fulfill our responsibility to deliver the benefits and care that you earned. That’s why I’ve pledged to build nothing less than a 21st-century VA”. –President Barack Obama
Today, US military veterans are one of the largest and most important interest groups in the American polity. Nearly one third of the US population is eligible for some form of veteran’s benefits. Despite this, major issues, such as homelessness and negative health outcomes, plague America’s military veteran population. To understand this complex state of affairs, Good Charity, Inc. has prepared an historical overview and analysis of how U.S. Veterans have been serviced by the government and the current issues impacting them.
A brief history of American Veterans
The first law in the colonies on pensions, enacted in 1636 by Plymouth, provided money to those disabled in the colony’s defense against Indians. By 1789, with the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the first Congress assumed the burden of paying veterans benefits.
The Civil War, America’s deadliest conflict, brought Veterans issues to the fore. When the War broke out in 1861, the nation had about 80,000 war veterans. By the end of the war in 1865, another 1.9 million veterans had been added to the rolls.
The first important pension law in the 20th century was the Sherwood Act of 1912, which awarded pensions to all veterans. In 1918 The Vocational Rehabilitation Act was passed, mandating any honorably discharged disabled veteran of World War I was eligible for vocational rehabilitation training; a forerunner of the well-known GI Bill.
From the colonial era into the post WW1 era the support system for Veterans had grown significantly and military veterans became firmly entrenched as an important interest group and pillar of society. But that status would be severely shaken during the Great Depression.
The darkest day for the relationship between the U.S. government and the nation’s veterans came in 1932, at the trough of the economic downturn, when as many as 20,000 veterans descended upon the U.S. capital, demanding the payment of bonds they were issued at the end of WW1 that were not scheduled to mature until 1945.
The horde of angry veterans , whom the press labeled the “Bonus Army” served as a visceral reminder of President Herbert Hoover’s failed handling of the nation’s economic collapse. Faced with thousands of veterans camped in a shanty town just a few miles south from the White House lawn, the President made the fateful decision to send General Douglas MacArthur in to forcibly remove the approximately 3,500 veterans, many with their wives and children, who refused to leave.
When the smoke cleared from the fires that were either deliberately set by Federal troops or started accidentally, Hoover’s slim chances for re-election were reduced to ash; his treatment of U.S. veterans and the so-called “Bonus Army” enervated his remaining political base and Franklin Roosevelt was elected president in a landslide.
World War 2 Veterans and the GI Bill
With such a large portion of the adult male population brought into military service during WW2, it was inevitable that Veterans issues would come to the fore of political debate. As the war drew to a close, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the “GI Bill of Rights” into law on June 22, 1944. This bill provided veterans with education grants, federally guaranteed home, farm and business loans, and special unemployment compensation.
The GI Bill was an integral component to post-war economic growth; since the introduction of the GI Bill in 1944 over 21 million veterans and their family members have received GI Bill benefits for education and training.
The GI Bill contributed more than any other program in history to the welfare of veterans and their families, and to the growth of the nation’s economy.
Vietnam Veteran Issues
Due to medical advances and the ability to airlift severely wounded soldiers directly off the battlefield, the Vietnam conflict created an unprecedented amount of long-term disabled veterans. By 1972 there were 308,000 veterans with disabilities connected to military service.
Vietnam veterans also faced a unique dilemma upon the end of their military service- an unfriendly welcome home. Anti-war sentiment, rising drug abuse, and a changing economic landscape presented Vietnam veterans with a difficult landscape on which to build their civilian lives.
The Veterans Administration responded to this crisis in several ways. Most importantly, education programs for Veterans were reestablished and became highly successful. About 76 percent of those eligible participated, compared with 50.5 percent of World War II veterans and 43.4 percent of Korean Conflict veterans. By 1980, the Veterans’ Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966 had trained 5.5 million veterans.
Growth of the Veterans Administration
The aging veteran population of WW1, WW2, and Korea combined with the large cohort of disabled Vietnam conflict veterans caused the number of disability pension cases to jump from 89,526 in 1960 to 691,045 in 1978.
In 1988 the Veterans Administration was elevated to cabinet level status, and was second among government agencies only to the Defense Department in the number of employees,
On July 21, 2005, the Veterans Administration celebrated its 75th Anniversary. Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs has a budget of $63.5 billion and serves nearly 25 million veterans.
Most Important Issues Facing American Veterans
Men and women holding “Homeless Veteran” signs are a common sight in many American cities. Unfortunately, the visage of troubled veterans is not a new one; after the Civil War thousands of Union Army veterans with missing limbs could be seen on the streets of New York, Philadelphia, and other Northern cities. Today, many veterans are hard pressed by the economic realities they face upon completion of their military service, along with the lingering effects of Post-traumatic stress syndrome and it’s children –drug and alcohol abuse, so they find themselves homeless.
Only 7% of the general population can claim veteran status, but nearly 13% of the homeless adult population are veterans. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 62,619 veterans are homeless on any given night; over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness. Veterans under the age of 50 are twice as likely to be homeless as older veterans.
Good Charity, Inc and the Michigan Disabled and Paralyzed Veterans Fund have partnered with local organizations in Detroit, Michigan to help support homeless veterans in a holistic, full service environment that aims to get them off the streets and back on track as working, healthy citizens.
In 2009, President Barack Obama and VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced the goal of ending Veteran homelessness by 2015, and since that time the Federal government claims the number of Veterans who are homeless has dropped by 17.2 percent.
In 2012, the VA served more than 240,000 Veterans who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless—21 percent more than the year before. In fiscal year 2012, 80,558 calls were made to the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans (877-4AID-VET)
While substantial progress has been made to decrease homelessness amongst veterans, the impending return of over 1 million veterans from active duty during the next five years means that this issue will not be going away anytime soon and must be met with diligent commitment.
Veterans with Disabilities
As of 2013, roughly 3.5 million veterans have at least a partial disability related to their military service, over 800,000 of whom are considered completely disabled.
Good Charity Inc. supports disabled veterans through the Disabled and Paralyzed Veterans Fund and our Financial Assistance Program.
This video tells the story of how a ww2 Veteran in Michigan received financial help to construct the wheelchair ramp he needed.
The range of disabilities that veterans are afflicted with is as varied as their theaters of combat and modes of service. In late 2012 the US Army alone reported that 73,674 soldiers have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, and another 30,480 with traumatic brain injury, often caused by one or more severe blows to the head or exposure to a concussive blast; over 1,600 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans have lost a limb.
Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts veterans are filing for disability benefits at a historic rate, claiming to be the most medically and mentally troubled generation of former troops the nation has ever seen; a staggering 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans recently returning from the Middle East have filed disability claims with the Federal government.
Often, the health impacts of wartime service are not as clear cut as a battlefield wound. In the aftermath of the Vietnam conflict a long battle between veterans and the VA began over the impacts of the defoliant Agent Orange which was used extensively during not only in Vietnam but in the Korean DMZ during the late 1960’s.
In 1991, the US Congress enacted the Agent Orange Act, giving the Department of Veterans Affairs the authority to declare certain conditions ‘presumptive’ to exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin, making these veterans who served in Vietnam eligible to receive treatment and compensation for these conditions.
Congress authorized payouts to veterans with certain conditions presumed to have been caused by exposure to Agent Orange, including prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, multiple myeloma, type II diabetes, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, chloracne, porphyria cutanea tarda, peripheral neuropathy, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and spina bifida in children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange, hairy cell leukemia, Parkinson’s disease and ischemic heart disease, these last three having been added on August 31, 2010.
Gulf War Syndrome
Approximately 250,000 of the 697,000 veterans who served in the 1991 Gulf War are afflicted with enduring chronic multi-symptom illness, a condition with serious consequences. A wide range of acute and chronic symptoms have been linked to it, including fatigue, muscle pain, cognitive problems, rashes and diarrhea. From 1995 to 2005, the health of combat veterans worsened in comparison with nondeployed veterans, with the onset of more new chronic diseases, functional impairment, repeated clinic visits and hospitalizations, chronic fatigue syndrome-like illness, posttraumatic stress disorder, and greater persistence of adverse health incidents. According to a report by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, it showed that veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan may also suffer from the syndrome.
Suggested causes have included depleted uranium, sarin gas, smoke from burning oil wells, vaccinations, combat stress and psychological factors, though only pyridostigmine (an antitoxin for nerve agents) and organophosphate pesticides have been conclusively linked
“It is clear that a significant portion of the soldiers deployed to the Gulf War have experienced troubling constellations of symptoms that are difficult to categorize,” said committee chair Stephen L. Hauser, professor and chair, department of neurology, University of California, San Francisco. “Unfortunately, symptoms that cannot be easily quantified are sometimes incorrectly dismissed as insignificant and receive inadequate attention and funding by the medical and scientific establishment. Veterans who continue to suffer from these symptoms deserve the very best that modern science and medicine can offer to speed the development of effective treatments, cures, and — we hope — prevention.”
Mental Illness Among veterans
Mental illness among military personnel is also a major concern. In another study of returning soldiers, clinicians identified 20 percent of active and 42 percent of reserve component soldiers as requiring mental health treatment. Drug or alcohol use frequently accompanies mental health problems and was involved in 30 percent of the Army’s suicide deaths from 2003 to 2009 and in more than 45 percent of non-fatal suicide attempts from 2005 to 2009.
Veterans- drug and alcohol abuse
Prescription drug abuse doubled among U.S. military personnel from 2002 to 2005 and almost tripled between 2005 and 2008., but a Alcohol abuse is the most prevalent problem and one which poses a significant health risk. A study of Army soldiers screened 3 to 4 months after returning from deployment to Iraq showed that 27 percent met criteria for alcohol abuse and were at increased risk for related harmful behaviors (e.g., drinking and driving, using illicit drugs).
PTSD among Veterans
1 in 5 Iraq conflict veterans has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and PTSD sufferers account for 20% of all suicides among military veterans.
PTSD may have be impacting veterans physical health as well as their mental health. Male twin Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were more than twice as likely as those without PTSD to develop heart disease during a 13-year period, according to a study supported by the National Institutes of Health.
Traditionally, veterans have often suffered higher than average unemployment rates, but aggressive measures in the last several years have brought veterans’ unemployment rates in line with the national average. This is less true for veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 who, during 2012, posted an unemployment rate of 20.4 percent, according to federal figures. The number of veterans in this age range are about to swell exponentially, particularly as American troops exit Afghanistan by 2014.
“The fact is there are another million service members and their families who are getting ready to leave the armed forces over the next five years,” said. “Many of them are going to be 24 and under, and many of them will have military spouses who also face high rates of unemployment.” -Kevin Schmiegel , executive director of “Hiring Our Heros”
What we can do for Veterans
Military conflict is an unfortunate reality of the world we live in. American Veterans have risked their very lives to protect America’s place in the world and the lifestyle we enjoy. Good Charity Inc created this analysis of Veteran history and the issues facing them to provide a game plan for helping veterans and their families overcome any and all obstacles on their path to life, liberty, and the pursuit happiness.