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Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://washingtontimes.com/upi-breaking/20041207-121848-6449r.htm Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters By Mark Benjamin UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 7, 2004
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      Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters

      By Mark Benjamin

      Washington, DC, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- 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.

      "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."

      "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.

      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.

      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

      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.

      "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.

      "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.'"

      The Pentagon has acknowledged some early problems and
      delays in treating soldiers returning from Iraq but
      says the situation has been fixed.

      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.

      He said that after being quickly pushed out of the
      military, he could not get help from the VA because of
      long delays.

      "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.

      "When we got there, the VA was totally full. They
      said, 'We'll call you.' But I developed depression."

      He left his job and wandered for three months,
      sometimes living in his truck.

      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.

      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.

      "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

      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

      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.

      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

      "We were pretty much all over the place," Brown said.
      "It was really heavy gunfire, supported by mortar and
      tanks, the whole nine (yards)."

      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.

      "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."

      "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."

      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.

      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

      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.

      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.

      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.

      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.

      "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.

      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.

      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.
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