Veterans of war in the United States have faced a myriad of challenges since the Civil War to date. The problems include homelessness, legal issues, joblessness, and healthcare access (Sagastume, 2011). All these problems are interconnected and need a holistic solutions approach. Health complications that may have resulted from military service range from physical to mental injuries. When veterans have some form of disabilities, they are likely to become homeless, engage in criminal activities, and require legal services. A veteran may become homeless because of family and friends’ rejection as a result of mental and physical illnesses. As such, they may opt to live on the streets for the lack of other alternatives. Living on the streets makes it impossible for them to secure jobs because they have no permanent residences through which employers can contact them. Moreover, some employers are unwilling to employ veterans because of perceived psychological and physical injuries associated with the war. Additionally, their health problems may deteriorate because of exposure to unfavorable conditions. Desperation that accompanies homelessness may prompt veterans to engage in drug abuse and other crimes, which may increase their need for legal assistance. Current paper will evaluate current and historical status of these veterans’ issues, how they affect veterans, their families, and the community. Additionally, it will explore current and past strategies used to solve the problems and their effectiveness, as well as offer alternative intervention strategies.
History and Current Status of the Issues
The issues affecting veterans started as early as the establishment of the American Republic. Veterans of war experienced massive disabilities in the revolutionary war and faced the challenge of homelessness after the Civil War. Their number increased gradually during the First and Second World Wars, which created the need for the government to institute intervention measures to tackle health, job, and home-related challenges. The Vietnam War also produced veterans who found it difficult to cope with the aftermath of the war. The current status of the veterans’ issues has become critical, especially because of the involvement of America in several global conflicts. The two most devastating conflicts that have worsened the veterans’ situation are the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars (Little & Zimmerman, 2009). Large numbers of American troops went to both Iraq and Afghanistan. The effects of these two wars were massive because some soldiers were deployed for more than two times, which increased trauma and probability of injuries. As such, it would have been imperative for the government to ensure that there were effective mechanisms to assist veterans to re-integrate into civilian lives easily. However, the United States’ withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan coincided with an economic recession, which aggravated the problems of veterans. Additionally, there was a change from the previous wars in terms of veterans’ composition. Veterans consist of more women than in the past, which requires new approaches to include women in intervention strategies. Although the government and other organizations have tried to help veterans, they have not succeeded in eliminating their problems. Solutions that the government has created to assist veterans have been ineffective because of poor management, which has led to delays in processing of their benefits.
How the Issues Affect:
The Military Member
Lack of access to health care is one of the most critical issues facing veterans upon return from war. Several health-related problems arise from people being exposed to war. Firstly, soldiers may be physically injured, which may incapacitate them, creating a burden for their family members. Secondly, trauma associated with conflicts can lead to behavioral change, which may make it impossible for veterans to re-integrate into civilian life (Jaycox & Tanielian, 2008). Such health issues may make veterans feel rejected by their families and friends and increase tendencies of isolation. When they are isolated, their relationships with other people deteriorate as they sink further into solitude.
Delays in accessing health care assistance may make veterans homeless as they isolate themselves from families in an attempt to cope. Homelessness worsens their health because of exposure to weather elements and poor hygienic standards. Being sick and homeless affects the ability of veterans to advance their careers for various reasons (Perl, 2014). Firstly, being homeless means that they do not have a permanent residence and, thus, they have no means through which potential employers can reach them. In such homeless situations, veterans cannot develop social networks that may enable them to access employers. Secondly, desperation of being homeless and jobless may influence veterans and make them engage in criminal activities such as drug abuse, robbery, and violence. Consequently, they are likely to go to jail, which may further worsen their situation.
When they become criminals, the need for legal assistance arises. However, their desperation cannot afford them legal assistance they require. Apart from dealing with crime, the legal help can facilitate processing of veterans’ benefits from the government (Little & Zimmerman, 2009). As such, its absence makes the situation critical because veterans may give up following up on their benefits. In case when veterans have engaged in criminal activities, obtaining employment becomes almost impossible because no employer wants an employee with a criminal record.
The Military Member’s Family
When a veteran is sick and has no home, job, and legal help, his/her family suffers immeasurably. In case the veteran was the sole breadwinner, the family is likely to become homeless and experience hunger and sickness. The inability of the veteran to provide for the family may increase psychological problems and hopelessness (Sagastume, 2011). Children cannot get proper education, which diminishes their chances of success in life. The fact that the veteran is in the bad situation because of selflessness to serve the nation breeds remorse and hatred. Behavioral changes that emerge from the wartime experience are likely to create strife in the family and eventually lead to separation and divorce. Research has shown that cases of divorces are high among veterans as compared to the general public.
The Community at Large
Veterans are a part of the community whose participation is essential for its well-being. Their ability to contribute positively depends on their mental, physical, and emotional health. When they are sick and have no jobs and homes, they cannot benefit the community adequately. In fact, such problems are likely to disrupt social order. The community requires veterans to contribute both economically and socially. However, about 95% of all veterans are single and unable to raise families because of various problems affecting their lives (Szelwach, Steinkogler, Badger, & Muttukumaru, 2011). Moreover, they are unable to support the community economically because they are sick, homeless, and jobless.
Veterans have needs that require community’s resources. For instance, when they are sick, they need hospitals in their localities with experts to treat their mental and physical injuries. Additionally, community-based organizations mobilize resources to give shelter and food to homeless veterans. Therefore, the veterans’ problems place great demands on community resources.
Past and Current Interventions and Strategies to Address the Issues
One of the earliest interventions was created in 1811 when the federal government established the first domiciliary medical facility for veterans. After the Civil War, the government established veterans’ homes. Subsequent governments have used different strategies to address the issues that affect veterans. After the First World War, the Congress established the veterans’ benefits, a program that provided them with compensation for the disability, insurance for both service personnel and veterans, and vocational rehabilitation. In the 1920s, three federal agencies were created to administer the benefits. The agencies included the Veterans’ Bureau, National Home for the Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, and the Bureau of Pension of the Interior Department (Hamilton, Poza, Hines, & Washington, 2012). Later, the agencies were consolidated to form the Veterans Administration. In 1944, the Congress enacted a law known as the GI Bill, which prioritized funding for veterans. The bill authorized loans for veterans and unemployment benefits. In 1988, the government promoted the Veterans Administration to a cabinet executive department and renamed it Veterans Affairs. Other strategies and interventions included establishment of the Veterans Health Administration, which treats veterans with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorders, and other psychological problems.
Currently, the government has diversified its strategies by the participation of more departments, non-governmental organizations, and community-based organizations (Washington et al., 2010). The Departments of Labor and Veteran Affairs have been coordinating the work of all organizations assisting veterans by providing incentives and guidelines on various issues. The government has been giving tax credits to employers who agree to employ veterans. Moreover, some organizations receive grants from the government so that they can continue offering services to veterans. The Veterans Affairs (VA) Department has several initiatives that aim to address the problems of health, employment, legal assistance, and residency. The VA has instituted pension and compensation benefits for veterans. Wartime veterans are entitled to pension, while those who suffered injury during their military service should receive compensation from the government. Additionally, the VA has created education benefits that aim to empower veterans for their absorption into the workforce. Finally, the VA has an employment initiative such as allowing service members to resume their former work after their military duty. The VA facilitates prioritization of veterans when the federal government is hiring.
The VA has initiated a program called Capital Grant and Per Diem program, which provides funds to community-based organizations to construct transitional houses for veterans. Moreover, the VA has partnered with the Department of Housing and Urban Planning to support the housing program that guarantees permanent homes for veterans.
Effectiveness of the Strategies and Interventions
In the past, the Veterans Affairs has been accused of being ineffective in addressing the needs of veterans. Bureaucracy and corruption have affected interventions and strategies, making them less efficient than expected (Foster & Vince, 2009). Despite having programs supported by the law, their implementation has been a challenge. For instance, a veteran should receive help within 30 days of filing for it. However, most veterans have to wait for many months and years before their benefits and assistance can reach them. Some are usually dead or in dire distress by the time the help is forthcoming. Sometimes, veterans get tired of following up on their benefits and resign to fate, which worsens the situation. Although some have benefited from the strategies and interventions, the majority of veterans that have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan have not received help.
The increasing number of women veterans has created a new problem for the present programs because there was minimal focus on women in the past. Facilities catering for veterans and the quality of service delivered are below the expected standards (Hines, 2010). In some cases, patients in these facilities have died of negligence and after receiving care from unqualified personnel. The management of some facilities has failed to provide leadership by hiring the right number of employees and ensuring they are qualified. As a result, veterans have suffered in situations when they should have received help. Therefore, despite having been effective to some extent, the past and present strategies have not met the expectations.
Recommendations for Alternative Interventions and Strategies
One of the problems that have made the current interventions ineffective is the pace at which the veterans’ issues are handled. Despite the regulations requiring processing to take a maximum of 30 days, the process may drag on for months and years. Therefore, despite the appeal of some strategies, they are useless if they cannot satisfy the needs of end-users. The best strategy to expedite the processing of veterans’ benefits is to automate the Veterans Affairs in general. Every process in the department should be computerized so that the staff can track records faster than before and help veterans before their situations deteriorate.
The second recommendation is for increased oversight by the Congress on the VA and institutions mandated to provide soldiers with services. Regular reviews and reporting can help the government track progress and demand accountability where service delivery is below standards.
A major shift in the composition of veterans is the increased number of females. The change has had ramifications for providers of services such as housing because there were no houses for the women veterans in the past. Since women veterans are more likely to become homeless than men, the government should construct facilities that focus on women (Anselm, 2011).
The number of veterans is currently higher than during any other period in the country’s history because of many conflicts in which the country has been recently involved. However, the number of facilities serving them has not increased in the same ratio. The remedy for this problem is for the government to increase the number of facilities to correlate with the surging number of veterans.
Historically, handling of the veterans’ issues has improved gradually. The problems started in the revolutionary war and increased during the First and Second World Wars. Disability and homelessness have been the main issues affecting veterans. The focus on veterans has increased because of their increasing numbers.
The military member is affected by the problems in various ways. Lack of healthcare makes physical and mental problems worse, which leads to changes in behavior. The change limits the person’s ability to re-integrate and leads to isolation. Subsequently, isolation leads to homelessness, which makes it hard for the member to get a job. A desperate person may engage in crime, go to jail, and has no legal help.
The problems affect the family because it may become homeless or experience hunger and sickness. The problems may breed strife that may end up in divorce. The community is unable to experience social and economic benefits from suffering veterans. Additionally, the community must set aside resources to assist veterans.
The past and current strategies include construction of medical facilities and homes. The government has instituted benefits such as pension, compensation, and employment benefits. Current interventions include collaboration with other stakeholders, issuance of grants to those who assist veterans, and provision of incentives to employers considering veterans for employment. The VA has created education benefits, funds for housing, and employment initiatives.
The interventions have been successful only to some extent. Delays in responding to veterans’ needs have been the greatest challenge. Automation of the VA, increased oversight, and new facilities for women may provide the remedies to improve the current status.