March 31, 2005

What’s Wrong With This Story About Homeless Vets?

Sometimes stories are written with a slant so dishonest that you just have to be appalled. Take this lead from a story on homeless veterans that appeared in the Detroit News.
Everywhere he looks these days, Ron Johnson sees yellow ribbons bearing the words "Support Our Troops." And every time he sees them, he wonders which troops they refer to.

Johnson, a U.S. Army veteran who has been homeless since losing his job just before Presidents Day, has come to believe that concern for soldiers stops as soon as they're discharged.

"It's fake," said the 53-year-old. "As soon as you're out of the service, you're automatically zero."

Advocates for Metro Detroit's homeless say the number of homeless veterans who, like Johnson, are seeking assistance, is on the rise. The state's largest assistance center for former soldiers reported a 36-percent increase in veterans seeking homeless assistance since last year. Nonprofit groups in Wayne and Macomb counties also reported significant increases.

Sounds awful.. This poor guy, just discharged, is out on the streets after being used and abused by the evil US military. How can you not be outraged? I know I was – right up to the point that I got to this part of the article.

While some veterans recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan have appeared at area shelters, most are veterans who have been out of the service or the reserves for several years.

Of the 323 veterans who received transitional housing through the Michigan Veterans Foundation, 54 percent were age 31 to 50 and another 39 percent were 51 to 61. Many are not combat veterans.

At 54, Herman Abila recently found himself in need of housing assistance. From 1980 to 1983, he was in the U.S. Army, stationed in places like Colorado and Germany.

"I enlisted because it was a regular job," said Abila, who was a sergeant when discharged and was a member of the U.S. Army Reserve through 1993. "The only thing you have to do to keep the job is keep your nose clean."

Abila was a mechanic until a workplace accident shattered his right elbow. After three surgeries and physical therapy, finding steady work became difficult.

Two weeks ago, his temp job dried up, leaving him with only his disability check.
"I was staying in a motel room but it was eating up my check," he said. With nowhere else to go, Abila turned to Veteran's Haven, which is providing him with temporary housing.

The problem is not with current soldiers returning from combat and being turned out on the streets by an uncaring country. These are older guys, who served in a peacetime military, who are facing hard times as the Rust Belt economy of the state of Michigan flounders. Mr. Abila is not homeless because the government turned its back on him – he is homeless because of an on-the-job injury that limited his employability. Look at the dates. He hasn’t been a reservist since the first year of the Clinton administration – and when Abila was last on active duty, Demi Moore thought it was cool to date a 27-year-old because he would be an older man.

In other words, they are not playing straight with us here. There may be a problem here, but it isn’t what they are telling us.

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