150. The Spirit of Our Veterans

Spirit is defined as: The vital principle or animating force within living beings:

Since our individual spirits are intangible and therefore invisible to the world around us, we see the state of a spirit through a person’s interaction with the world. It’s hard to describe the attributes of a spirit that is healthy but it can be assumed  that it is a sum of both our mental and physical well being. It is much easier to recognize a spirit that is in trouble and unfortunately we have a prime example of spiritual trouble with our veterans. The media has been giving a lot of recent press to the mental condition of our returning troops –and unfortunately it isn’t good news. Here are some of the latest statistics from NAMI:

The number of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder from the Department of Veterans Affairs jumped by nearly 20,000 — almost 70% — in the 12 months ending June 30, 2007, VA records show

Almost 1 in 3 veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq confront mental health problems.
In 2006, the suicide rate in the Army reached its highest level in 26 years.

Approximately 30% of veterans treated in the Veterans health system suffer from depressive symptoms, two to three times the rate of the general population.

More Vietnam veterans have now died from suicide than were killed directly during the war in the 1960s and 70s.

Approximately 40% of homeless veterans have mental illnesses.

The mental illnesses that are playing havoc with the spirit of our veterans include Depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD) , Anxiety and Traumatic Brain Injury . It would seem that the business of war has some serious consequences on our mental health & human spirit. The VA Health Care System has made efforts to increase mental health services in response to the sharp rise in the recent numbers of mental health disorders. It is good to see our government doing the right thing for our veterans of this war but for many the scars incurred during war will remain with our veterans for a life time…and some will take their own lives as a way to cure these devastating disorders that crush the spirit.

These statistics are especially worrisome for the spiritual welfare of our homeless veterans . Many of our veterans enter into homelessness as a direct result of their inability to transition back into a civilian lifestyle due to mental illnesses incurred during active military duty. A person who returns from war and finds themselves faced with military duty related mental illness often is unable to stop the widespread ripples of the damage it imparts to all aspect of their lives and they loose the ability to engage in life as they knew it before their spirit became damaged.. Sadly, many of our vets will never be the same after their time in the military.

But what about the damage to the spirit of our vets from actually being in a state homelessness? From everything I have learned about homelessness it is a devastating life event . The mere strain of providing for the physical self by seeking shelter from the elements and finding food to nourish the body becomes the focus of most days. Then of course there is the stress of the social interactions that our homeless vets must confront daily. The biases and uneducated prejudices the public have for people without a home can chip away at the self esteem and very core of the spirit. One formerly homeless friend of mine describes his experience with homelessness as “living on the fringe” of society, feeling isolated from society at large. It is no wonder that some of our homeless feel the need to isolate themselves or turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to fill this sense of hopelessness of their spirit. Many of our homeless veterans simply endure mental illness that descends upon their spirit and resign themselves to the assumption that this is something they must accept as part of being homeless . Others fail to realize that there is help available (or might not have access to VA services.)


The following is from a 2005 article  from Veterans Today predicting the future of the mental health forecast of our veterans,and sadly this prediction has been more than accurate causing the VA to expand greatly needed mental health services…I predict the trend continues unless we agressively seek better ways to support our veterans.

In the future, many homeless Iraq war vets will need mental health treatment, Boone predicted. “Studies show that mental health issues for homeless vets begin later in their lives — as much as twelve years later,” she explained. “They will seem to be doing well mentally, despite being on the street, and then some event will trigger a problem. The public should be really concerned about that because the VA doesn’t have the facilities or resources to treat the current number of homeless vets with mental health issues, let alone any new ones.”


The inability to recognize that all humans have a universal need for spiritual support that contributes to mental well being is perhaps one of the saddest aspect of how we treat the homeless veterans of our communities, yet it continues day in and day out throughout our nation.



1 Response to “150. The Spirit of Our Veterans”

  1. May 27, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    Thank you for the clear insight the to the struggles which our nation’s homeless Veterans face daily.

    It is sad that amid the constant battles for political one-upmanship, our nation’s law makers continue to ignore the needs of our homeless vets, and in doing so, condemn them to being POW’s right here on the streets of our nation’s cities.

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