In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama announced that by this time next year, 34,000 troops will have been called back from Afghanistan. While that is good news, especially to military families, there are other things to consider.
For one, we're going to need jobs for these veterans. For another, the VA can expect up to 34,000 new claims for benefits. Not particularly good news given the current backlog of claims. Even if the VA hires new workers and implements electronic processing of claims in more locations, will they be able to get through the backlog and keep abreast of new claims coming in? I think it's doubtful.
The problem is not limited to the processing of claims. It extends to the processing of payments as well. We get calls on our hotline from vets who are in school and waiting for benefit payments from the VA to cover essential expenses like rent and food. When those payments are delayed, many vets have no one to turn to for help. The result? They're at risk of dropping out, not just out of school, but out of society. They become homeless or ill or both.
Did you ever play with dominoes as a kid? Remember lining them up in a long line and then tipping the first one? Each one as it falls knocks down another. It's the same with veterans. When medical or mental health benefits aren't in place when needed, they suffer. Veterans in school depending on housing allowances from the VA to stay in school have to drop out when they can't pay their rent or take care of themselves and their families. Alienation sets in; each descending rung places them at greater risk of homelessness and despair.
VA and HUD data show that veterans are over-represented in our homeless population. While veterans make up ten percent of the adult population in the U.S., they make up 17 percent of the adult homeless. That's now. We've got 32,000 or maybe more returning veterans, men and women, heading our way. It's time to think about how these returning veterans will reintegrate into society.