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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Our Veterans, Our Business

There are 174,000 veterans in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, including people who have served in the Reserves and the National Guard. Only San Diego exceeds Long Island in the percentage of veterans among adult citizens. Some 7,000 Long Islanders have served in the Armed Forces since September 2001.

Although Long Island has no active duty bases, 11 different units of the Army and Air National Guards, and the Army, Naval and Marine Reserves are based here. Many Long Islanders, of course, serve in Guard and Reserve units based in other parts of the state.

Some elements of the 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum (near where the St. Lawrence River meets Lake Ontario) have been deployed to the Middle East five times, more than any other Army division.

1.7 million troops have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over a six-year period, 2002 to 2008, mental health diagnosis increased more than six-fold, to 37 percent of all troops. Some studies suggest that as many as half of all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are suffering from post-traumatic stress and other serious disorders.

Somewhere between 130,000 and 150,000 of our 25 million veterans are homeless on any given night. Double those numbers, and that’s how many veterans are without a home at some point during the year. Forty-seven percent of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam War era. More Vietnam veterans have now died from suicide than were killed in combat during the war.

A 2008 report issued by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that there were 2,284 homeless veterans in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Actually, other federal departments use a different definition of “homeless” that would quintuple that estimate. Not-for-profit agencies are currently able to subsidize about 244 temporary housing spots for these Long Island veterans.

Many people in the military are reluctant to admit they have problems. There is still an attitude in some units that if a soldier isn’t bleeding, then he or she isn’t really hurt, and that seeking help is some kind of embarrassing weakness. When they do get back home, many veterans try to just tough it out. Many do, but many end up in a downward spiral that leads to broken families, lost jobs, bankruptcy, drug and alcohol abuse, heavy gambling, homelessness and suicide.

There is no one answer and no one solution that will work for everyone. Different people need different combinations of help.

Twice a year, in July and November, the Nassau County Veterans Service Agency, a county office, has been coordinating a Veterans Stand Down (“Stand Down” is a military expression to describe the process of relaxation after a state of alert). About 30 service providers are on hand to advise and sometimes give immediate help (such as a hot meal, a shower or a change of clothes) to veterans who are already at risk, in crisis or on the streets. Much of the advertising for the Stand Down is not done in newspapers or on the Internet, but on signs posted along our highways and store fronts, where they will be seen by those most in immediate need. This past Veterans Day, about 240 veterans were helped, an increase of a fifth since July. Call 572-8452 for information or assistance (perhaps for someone you know).

The Veterans Health Alliance of Long Island is a new alliance of not-for-profit organizations, government and academic agencies, civic organizations experts, individual practitioners and others organized under the auspices of the Mental Health Association of Nassau County. One of only two consortiums like it in the state (there is a sister organization in New York City), this growing group is quickly becoming an effective advocate and source of assistance to homeless veterans, veterans in crisis and also to their families. To lend your services, your support or your voice, check out the Alliance’s page at mhanc.org, or their new Facebook page.

There are other good projects and programs. These two are geared mostly to putting veterans in face-to-face contact with immediate assistance.

Veterans were hurt doing our business, in our name. This is also our business, our integrity, our honor.

 

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net