What Gives (Will Hignett)

This past Saturday I was one of our church’s volunteers at Produce to People (P2P), the Greater Pittsburgh Area Food Bank’s food distribution program. Our volunteers went to an elementary school on Pittsburgh’s near North Side by Allegheny General where we sorted large containers of loose vegetables and then handed out 30 pounds or so of fresh vegetables and other food to over 450 needy individuals. As you may know, Westminster serves with the food bank at this location three times a year, although P2P distributes food at this location and also at 17 total locations each month.

Free flu shots were also provided for anyone who wished to receive one, and since I was at the end of the food line I asked each person if they wanted to get a flu shot. It struck me that many of the men, perhaps as many as two thirds, said they either had received one from the VA or were scheduled to go to the VA for a shot. How was it that so many of our “nation’s heroes” were in this food line?

It’s a weird dynamic in our country when we celebrate several holidays that bring attention to and praise for the veterans who have served yet seem to abandon many needful vets. We are in debt to these men and women, many of who placed themselves in harm’s way for America.

So it is sad to see how many veterans end up after having sacrificed for our country’s freedom and safety. How can it be that there are on average over 50,000 homeless veterans across our country on any given night? How is it that more than 100,000 combat veterans sought help for mental illness since the start of the war in Afghanistan in 2001, and about one in seven of those have left active duty since then (according to VA records)? Almost one-half of those were PTSD cases. Why is there not more outrage about the estimated 1.2 million male veterans who in 2002/2003 were identified as living with serious mental illness? Or great concern expressed over the approximately 209,000 female veterans (13.1 percent) who reported serious mental illness?

The flip side of the coin is that some encouraging new programs and organizations have been developed supporting veterans like The Mission Continues and the Veterans Leadership Program. Political leaders and First Lady Michelle Obama have at times put the issue of homeless veterans high on their agenda as well. Mrs. Obama said in a July speech: “As Americans, the idea that anyone who has worn our country’s uniform spends their nights sleeping on the ground should horrify us.” Last year too it was announced that the government would provide a new round of funding to help meet its goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015, injecting nearly $270 million into programs aimed at addressing the problem. With 2.5 months left in the year, it is apparent that this goal of ending veteran homelessness will not be met. Homeless vets still make up about 9% of the homeless in America.

Locally, City Mission plans to build a new veteran’s shelter with services and beds dedicated to veterans. They are doing so since so many of their residents are veterans and the demand for shelter remains high throughout SW Pennsylvania.

So be disquieted by the troubles experienced by those who have served our country. Our Christian duty as well calls us to serve those in need and sadly many veterans are the “less fortunate.” Find a way to get involved in helping our veterans: write letters to congress; donate to groups assisting vets; learn more and advocate for better services and assistance to struggling veterans, and pray for those who are homeless or suffering mental illness and PTSD.

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