Homelessness is an enduring scourge of the veteran community. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that over 200,000 veterans spend at least part of the year living on the street. Lack of a residence addres has exacerbated the unemployment rate among veterans, which is now close to 20 percent. The majority of homeless veterans served in Vietnam, but the number of former soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan is growing at a steady rate and is now close to 9,000, according to one estimate. Of all homeless veterans, 7,000 are women, a reflection of the growing number of female soldiers.
The V.A. has pledged $500 million to help eliminate homelessness among veterans within five years. It is an ambitious goal at a time when the problems facing returning veterans are quickly multiplying. Veterans of today’s wars are hitting the streets much sooner than their counterparts from the Vietnam War. (It took close to 10 years for observers to recognize the problem among Vietnam vets.) The reasons are wretchedly familiar: addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder wreak havoc in many veterans’ lives. The frequent redeployments of soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan have also played a large role. Adapting to home life can be daunting when the specter of additional service hangs in the air.
The proposed infusion of government funds will provide much-needed services for all veterans. Yet the nation’s obligation to the troops cannot end there. The decision to wage war must weigh the long-term burden it places on soldiers, both on and off the battlefield. The lessons of Vietnam have yet to be learned. For how long will the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan walk our streets, like their Vietnam brothers, faceless and ignored?
Rights Prize for Cuban
The European Parliament has again awarded its Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to a Cuban dissident, Guillermo Farinas. He learned of the award in late October and is the third Cuban to receive it. Previous honorees there have been Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in prison in February, and the women’s group Damas de Blanco, who protested in 2003 against relatives’ imprisonment. Begun in 1988, the worldwide prize is named after the late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.
A psychologist and journalist, Farinas spent 11 years behind bars, participating in two dozen hunger strikes on behalf of others who, like himself, had been jailed for criticizing the government. He began his final hunger strike in February after the death by starvation of his fellow dissident Mr. Tamayo. But after collapsing in March, Farinas was removed to a hospital, where he accepted intravenous feeding that saved his life. He ended his hunger strike in July, when the Cuban government released dozens of political prisoners. Most fled to Spain. Their release was largely due to three-way talks between Havana’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Cuba’s president Raul Castro and the Spanish foreign minister, Miguel Moratinos. On ending his hunger strike, Farinas commented, “I think the situation in Cuba has changed...because the pro-democracy movement has fought for the freedom of political prisoners.” But with some 190 dissidents still in jail, real freedom in Cuba remains an unrealized goal.
The oil spilling into the waters of the Gulf Coast because of the Deepwater Horizon explosion was an inescapable presence in the national consciousness last summer. And then, suddenly, it disappeared—from the 24-hour news cycle and, supposedly, from the waters as well. The federal climate czar, Carol Browner, even announced that “the vast majority” of the oil was gone. A closer look at the situation has made it clear that—surprise!—4.9 million barrels of oil (at least) do not just disappear overnight.
Oil continues to wash up along 576 miles of the Gulf Coast. Greenpeace scientists have found oil 3,200 feet below the surface of the Gulf Coast waters, and they believe that the oil also has contaminated sediments from the ocean floor and affected oxygen levels in the water.
As part of its Operation Deep Clean, British Petroleum is digging deep into the sand to extract tar balls; BP must move quickly, but the company also must take a closer look at the long-term effects of its efforts to restore the land and waters.
BP’s next stage of clean-up must be more deliberate and thorough than its earlier efforts. Then the company spread dispersants to break up and sink the oil, despite the fact that these substances contain compounds known to cause cancer, genetic mutations and harm to the growth of embryos. Many Gulf Coast residents are now facing major health issues, including respiratory problems and internal hemorrhaging; and chemicals present in crude oil have even been found in the blood of clean-up workers. The story of the damage caused by the oil is not over. It is just beginning.