Memorial Day, originally titled Decoration Day, is a time to remember those who have died in service to our country. These are not just lives that have been lost. Many of these men and women will never know what it is to be a parent, husband or wife. These are lives cut short by war and all that is associated with war. We honor our soldiers; we honor those who have sacrificed. Since a resolution was passed in 2000, there has been a "Moment of Remembrance" on Memorial Day to ask Americans to have their own moment at 3 p.m. local time so that we can reflect and honor those who have given their lives.
This sacred day should also honor those veterans who have lost their lives as well as those who have lost the quality of their lives due to factors ranging from incompetent contractors to insufficient veteran support. The consequences of war have also made our returning veterans homeless or incapacitated due to conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. We cannot fully appreciate the sacrifice made by these service members without understanding some of these circumstances that led to this suffering.
This week Sen. Byron Dorgan and the Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing on the $83.4 million dollar bonuses paid by the U.S. Army to KBR, Inc. Dorgan was mad and called KBR's actions stunning incompetence for their work that lead to four electrocutions of soldiers who were the victims of what Dorgan called faulty wiring. Four soldiers died and hundreds more received electrical shocks. Sgt. Ryan Maseth was electrocuted when he was taking a shower; there was another shower death and two other lethal accidents due to faulty wiring of equipment. The Army has stopped the bonuses and KBR, once a part of Vice President Dick Cheney's former company Halliburton, has maintained that it is not responsible. Someone clearly did not wire the showers and the equipment properly, and it is the duty of the Pentagon to find out who is responsible if it is not KBR. These are needless deaths that do not need to be part of family grief this holiday.
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Tragic as these deaths are, there is another tragedy that we still can actually do something about. It is the tragedy of the homeless veteran. They can be seen in the streets of every major American city. Homeless vets of the two Iraq wars and of the Global War on Terror are beginning to show up at homeless shelters to request services. Some studies are showing that we may have as many as 150,000 to 200,000 homeless veterans. They are not counted in the numbers of veterans honored this holiday because they did not die as the result of their service, but their lives have been permanently scarred because we did not treat their Post Traumatic Stress, or PTSD, or give them the benefit of the doubt when they went looking for a job after they came home from war.
The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans estimates that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Iraq and Afghanistan war vets living in shelters or worse on the streets. The Army has said as many as 30 percent of soldiers coming from the Afghanistan and Iraq have emotional problems or PTSD. When you add brain injuries sustained from blasts, their problems are compounded. The Government Accountability Office said there are only 15,000 shelter beds for veterans. By any standard that is not nearly enough.
When you add sexual abuse to women who serve in the military as a risk factor for veterans' homelessness, it poses an even greater problem. Many homeless shelters are not geared towards the female veteran and the special problems they might have. Drug abuse as self-medication for mental difficulties, lack of affordable housing and a lousy economy all increase the risk of homelessness among all veterans. Our government is well aware of the problem. President Obama addressed the needs of current vets in his radio address this week. However, the resources are not great enough to shelter these former service members and provide job training. This needs to be a national priority. They have served us and it is time we served them.
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