Tomorrow, Americans across the country will stop, even if just briefly, to honor and commemorate the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have served our country in the armed forces.
Veterans Day will be met by some with fanfare and others with some solemnity at the memory of those lost. For most of us it should be a mixed bag — the celebration of those who have risked it all and a quiet moment of thankfulness for those who sacrificed everything for their commitment to country.
Historically, our country has had a tumultuous relationship with our veterans. Tens of thousands came back from Vietnam to terrible treatment by the citizenry. Americans responded politically to soldiers who simply followed orders. And those who made it back from that terrible war faced social, economic, mental, emotional and physical obstacles.
We were unprepared to return the service they so bravely gave us.
We’ve come a long way from that initial homecoming, but we aren’t there yet. The VA is still a mess. And while government and non-government organizations alike have made strides to give veterans the care and support they deserve, America still faces serious shortfalls when it comes to taking care of our returned soldiers.
The statistic that is perhaps most staggering is the number of homeless veterans on America’s streets.
Our country has somewhere around 630,000 homeless people. More than 67,000 of them are veterans. In fact, studies show that veterans are twice as likely to become chronically homeless than other group in America.
Of course, former military service is not the only mitigating factor in veteran homelessness. There is never one singular cause. But that number should cause us to question how we respond to those who return from service to our country.
It’s incredibly important to remember that our veterans didn’t choose the wars they fought in. They didn’t get a vote to express their opinions about the justification of any of the armed conflicts they found themselves in. The greatest military force in the world that protects the interests of our democracy is, indeed, not democratic.
And so our responses to veterans should never mirror our political views about the conflicts they were involved in.
The large number of homeless veterans should cause us to reevaluate our national response to how we care for our soldiers and their families. And it’s possible that we should take a look just a little to the north for some inspiration.
Canada just recently opened its first “Homes for Heroes” Village in Calgary. It’s a housing complex of tiny homes built for homeless veterans. The village of 15 homes comes fully loaded with cable, internet, kitchens and patios. With the goal of helping military veterans transition successfully in to civilian life, a Canadian energy and infrastructure solutions company built the village through a $1.5 million in-kind donation.
What makes the Canadian story even more unique is that it first asked veterans what needs they had and how they could be met. They built the community to the specifications that homeless veterans said would be most helpful in getting them to a stable place. What the company found was that most veterans didn’t want a hand-out. They wanted some help getting on their feet so they could make it on their own.
$1.5 million sounds like a lot of money. But let’s put things into perspective.
I love college football — love it. And my team is struggling a lot this year. So much that we fired our head coach after just 21 games and we’re on a frantic search to find a replacement before we lose even the slightest advantage with recruits.
College football is my game. But here’s where I start to scratch my head: It costs $1.5 million to give homes to veterans who risked everything to serve their country. At the same time, college football coaches who failed to get the job done will walk away with close to 12 times that amount of money — for not succeeding at the job they were hired to do.
It seems like an unbalanced set of priorities.
I realize it isn’t apples to apples. But if we valued our veterans the way we value our college football victories, our country might just be a drastically different place.
Our veterans deserve to live with roofs over their heads, steady jobs and a sense of security. Tomorrow, as we think about our veterans’ service, perhaps we should also think about what we are doing as a country to make sure they have what they need when they come home.
Cortney Stewart is a 2003 graduate of Lecanto High School. She has bachelor’s degrees in political science and international affairs, a master’s degree in intercultural studies and is currently working on her Ph.D. in international conflict management. She most recently spent two years teaching and training students, teachers and government officials in Baghdad, Iraq. Email her at email@example.com.