Getting out of the military is not an easy task for any soldier transitioning into the civilian sector.
The life that person knew prior to enlisting was long gone and replaced by a more brutal and cutthroat society. Brutal because now the soldier has no one to take care of him or her. There’s no longer anyone to be the lead and give orders like in the military. Cutthroat because in the civilian sector, a person can be out of a job and on the streets within minutes for no reason.
“Brutal” and “cutthroat” are words that most United States military veterans know all too well, some more than others. But there is another “brutal and cutthroat” world that many veterans are transitioning into when they leave the military. That is, it into homelessness.
According to the Pennsylvania Veterans Affairs Department, in Harrisburg 23% of its homeless on the streets are veterans, with 6% being female veterans. In many cases, these soldiers fought overseas and then came back to the States out of the military only to be homeless. Why is this happening and why are we letting this happen?
There should be no reason why a returning veteran comes home and gets thrown into the streets to live. Most of these veterans who come back stateside and get out have degrees or certifications. So why is this an epidemic in Harrisburg and in the United States?
One of the main reasons is there is a problem matching resources and veterans together, such as providing education to returning soliders on accessing assistance.
When a soldier shifts from the military to the civilian sector there are supposed to be resources put in place to help with the transition. Many times the workload on the administrative side is so overwhelming that soldiers are often quickly released from the military before they actually receive any benefits from the transition offices. I know this because when I left the Army I was hurried through the process and my expiration term of service was 30 days after I had left the military.
During the transitioning phase, we were asked if we would like to receive any benefits or any help with resources. Since we did not know what we needed or what those specific resources were, most of us did not raise our hands. As a result, we gave up being able to make any claims for those resources. Even though this was the scenario well over ten years ago, I still run into veterans today who tell me the same story.
The resources are there and these veterans returning should know where to find them. As the capital of the state and the county seat, Harrisburg is beginning to become a hub of these services and organizations. Fortunately, more of the community is starting to accept the fact that veterans are a part of their society as they make up 1 in 10 people. More employers are looking for veterans and more veterans are returning from service and getting into the workforce.
However, even though veterans are getting hired, there are even more veterans still walking the streets without a home. The numbers are stable for men but growing for female homeless veterans.
The fact remains that there are still many of our veterans living a life of poverty or living on the streets.
Veterans are leaders. They are team builders, and they are problem solvers. Veterans are more likely to volunteer for the community than an average civilian. They give back to society and veterans have a heart for helping those that are in need. Military veterans are those that get into politics, apply for government work, and often are police and firefighters. Veterans are those that continue to serve even after they have left the military.
They help us; therefore, our veterans are in need of help before the epidemic of joblessness and homelessness reaches stratospheric proportions in Central Pennsylvania. We need to step up and do something about it.
Our veterans deserve the best that we can give them. By helping support organizations such as the YWCA, VFW, American Legion, and the PA Veterans Chamber of Commerce, we can give more of our veterans a fighting chance.
Robert M. Brandt is a veteran of the United States Army and is the CEO of Focus Dynamics.
illustration by Ammon Perry, Doodletillomega