Abraham Flexner, an American educator, said decades ago, “Nations have recently been led to borrow billions (now trillions) for war; no nation has ever borrowed largely for education. Probably, no nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both.”
Having made the choice, we must be prepared to deal with the consequences. The military industrial complex speaks volumes to the choices our government has made, and so do the 135,000 American veterans who are homeless. It’s hard to comprehend the magnitude of money and lives our country has sacrificed in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. We have lost so much.
As outlined in the cover story, “A long way from home,” thousands of combat veterans are returning to Oregon and the U.S. to face an economy not equipped to support them, and a society far removed from their needs. At the same time, it’s that same war machine’s costs that have contributed to the very recession and social instability that greet soldiers on their arrival home.
It is an aggravating churn of consequences: joblessness in the face of increasing economic pressures, physical and mental health problems, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The results are an increase in homelessness and violence, and an inordinate number of suicides.
There’s simply no reason why a veteran returning home from war should have to sleep in a doorway or be forced into illegal activity because of the lack of jobs. Locally and nationally our attention should be to secure and develop resources for veterans, who often times are returning home with fully formed responsibilities; a family to feed and major bills to pay.
The city and county continue to look for ways to develop housing resources. It’s time that our local governments put a housing levy or bond on the ballot. A small levy or bond for veterans housing would mean a sustained funding sources to reinforce local housing development and preservation. We cannot wait any longer.
At the statewide level, the legislature cannot passively watch our returning men and women fall through the cracks. In action and message, our state lawmakers need to be pounding at the gates for improved access to jobs, housing and education. We have to recognize that military skills do not always translate to civilian employment, and military values do not easily adapt to the social service system. It is our responsibility to our neighbors to prevent the downward spiral that can fester unnoticed for years in advance of homelessness.
Federally, every Oregon elected official should be fighting tooth and nail for veteran’s resources, whether or not the word “veteran” is attached. Because the health and welfare of our returning soldiers is interlaced with the health and welfare of our most vulnerable citizens. President Obama has vowed to end the cycle of homeless veterans. Our representatives should push the administration and a war hungry Congress to reinvest in supportive services and replace the lost funding to affordable housing programs and incentives across the country. Likewise, more resources must be dedicated to the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, for veterans returning today, and those who came home decades ago.
Because every day, every year, we still have a choice. Let’s make the right one.