Tuesday, January 11, 2005

It’s Been Just Two Months Since the Election…

…and once again, our veterans are being forgotten – by both sides of the aisle. I wish I could say that the Iraq war is an isolated case, but it isn’t. Both parties used veterans to their advantage in the campaign. Both sides now have other things to do. As noted on this blog before, veterans are three times more likely to be homeless than anybody else.

Here is just one story that ought to make you angry:

Not long ago, Pfc. Herold Noel proudly rumbled through the Iraqi desert with the first wave of American troops.

Today, he rambles through the streets of Brooklyn in an SUV looking for a place to sleep.

The 25-year-old father of four, who suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder and has been homeless for the better part of six months, may represent the beginning of a wave of troops returning from battle with no place to go.

"When I was in Iraq, I was fighting a war for the American dream," Noel told The Post. "Now, I'm fighting a different kind of war, but it's still a war for survival."

His wife and toddler son may join him on the streets. They are living with Noel's sister-in-law, but she is moving to a smaller apartment and can't take them in.

The Flatbush native, who enlisted in the Army at age 19, was a member of Expeditionary Unit 37 — the so-called "tip of the spear" — delivering fuel to the front lines during the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

While there, Noel witnessed "things nobody should ever see," including comrades' limbs blown off and bodies littering the roadside.

Honorably discharged with a chest full of medals in August 2003, Noel spent some time in Hinesville, Ga., before packing up his 1994 red Jeep Cherokee and heading to New York last July.

But dreams of a sweet homecoming soon dissipated. After finding that his mother-in-law's home was too small, Noel and his family moved into his sister-in-law's house in Flatbush.

There, he, his wife and four kids shared one bed.

To make room, Noel began spending his days and nights in other places — ranging from homes of friends to Prospect Park to the inside of his SUV. Noel and his wife even pawned their wedding rings in an effort to get back on their feet.

Eventually, Noel took his family to the Emergency Assistance Unit in The Bronx, where he was told there was no more government-subsidized housing available.
"That's when my PTSD started to really kick in," he said.

He began suffering symptoms ranging from cold sweats to hearing voices. He's now regularly seeing a psychiatrist at the Fort Hamilton VA Hospital and has been prescribed three different medications, including trazodone, an antidepressant, and risperidone, an anti-psychotic.

But that's all the Army has provided. Noel said it takes up to a year for the Army to verify his claims of PTSD and begin sending him disability checks. Hank Minitrez, of the Army's "well-being" division, said there were "countless" private, nonprofit programs available to help vets like Noel, but admitted there is a problem relaying the information to ex-GIs in need.

Last month, Noel sent his 7-year-old, Stephon, and his twin 6-year-olds, Judy and Julian, to Florida to live with their maternal grandmother. Two-year-old Anthony has stayed with Noel and his wife.

"I'm not looking for a handout," Noel said. "I just want what I deserve for fighting for my country."
What can you do about this latest disgraceful treatment of veterans?

One way to get involved:
A disturbing national disgrace: America now faces a growing population of homeless Iraq War veterans. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Veterans Affairs Secretary Nominee Jim Nicholson should be forced to tell us how many combat veterans are homeless, how many recent war veterans have psychological problems, and what our government is doing to provide healthcare for those veterans.
Another strong advocate for veterans is the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans. Check out their website as well.

My intention is not to put you on a guilt trip with the following statement, but: It’s not enough to put a yellow ribbon magnet on your car saying you support the troops. It’s time to really start supporting the very same people, and the millions who went before them, who are now veterans.

They need housing. They need medical care. They shouldn’t have to roam the streets. After they made great sacrifices for us, it’s time to return the favor.

Posted by a Vet -- -- permanent link