Urgent Policy Proposal: Open a Special Facility for Homeless Veterans to Avoid Dangerous Situations
By Specialist Kenneth Lee Payne, Sr. 1st of 321st Artillery, 101st Airborne Division, US Army
Madison and Dane County have stated that no stone is unturned in regards to identifying and serving homeless veterans. From personal experience, I find this to not be true. During my time dealing with homelessness in Madison, I experienced responses from social service providers that did not meet or totally dismissed my needs as a veteran. I have compiled some of my experiences and made some recommendations in the hopes that other veterans who are dealing with homelessness are better served.
I served in Vietnam and came home with 100% disability with PTSD, and so I receive Veteran’s benefits for my disabilities on a monthly basis. When my wife and I were having problems (we have since reconciled) and I had to leave home, I was hospitalized at the Madison VA clinic for symptoms of my illness, which included suicidal thoughts. After a three day hospitalization, the hospital discharged me. With returning home not an immediate option, the VA social worker sent me to the men’s homeless shelter. It still disheartens me knowing that this is how our veterans are being treated.
Homeless veterans are not like other members of the homeless population. Homeless veterans are trained killers, many of whom have been subjected to and debilitated by the gruesome trauma of war. Cramming shell-shocked soldiers into the close quarters and frequently chaotic conflict of a homeless shelter is a disaster waiting to happen. The atmosphere is loud, personal, and intense. If a veteran was to suffer a flashback, the result would be disastrous.
Without the aid of service providers, I independently managed to find housing. If I had not been able to do this independently, as many veterans cannot (for many reasons, sometimes including mental health problems), I would still be homeless today. Some veterans have simply given up on the system after multiple negative experiences, angry at their treatment after fighting for our country. There are around 30-40 homeless veterans at the warming center on East Washington Avenue, where I have been volunteering since finding housing. I can see the strain on these people; one time I saw a young homeless veteran stay in his tuck position, a sort of standing fetal position for moments of extreme stress, for five minutes.
It’s unreasonable for us to expect these veterans to undergo this constant barrage of stress when they’ve already come home from war. Madison urgently needs a specific emergency shelter for homeless veterans, equipped to meet the special needs of returned servicemen and servicewomen. Research has shown that veterans returning home from combat are better able to cope with their pain and anger in the company of their peers, that the camaraderie itself is therapeutic. Given the recent violence in our country, we must be proactive in putting these services in place in order to prevent another major tragedy from occurring.
Until this shelter can be arranged, it is imperative that homeless veterans at least be provided with hotel vouchers to remove them from the chaos of the shelter system. This, again, is for the safety and well-being of everyone involved, from the veterans with a hair-trigger disorder, to the other homeless people who might unwittingly set that trigger off, to the volunteers who will feel bound to put themselves in the middle of any conflict in order to restore peace.
I personally am willing to contribute, in any way possible, to getting this shelter off the ground. But do I have to put my own money up to start this? Who can help me locate a building? Who can help me get this done? Despite my sense that my country in general does not feel the urgency of this issue, I still want to give back to my fellow veterans. Please contact me with any suggestions, ideas or offers of assistance on meeting this critical need.
Submitted with respect.