Honoring Our Veterans with Jobs, Housing, Health Care and Food for All

We are too often discouraged from recognizing the human cost of war, and instead urged to glorify a militarism that overlooks the very people who are impacted directly by military action. One of NESRI’s allies, Iraq Veterans Against the War, (IVAW) is engaged in incredibly important work all year round to ensure that veterans, military personnel and families, and civilians in the countries with which the United States is or has been engaged in war, are all central to our thinking about war and its impacts.

On Veterans Day this year, IVAW and the Civilian Soldier Alliance (CivSol) held a digital dialogue focused on the true costs of war, at home and abroad. Matt Howard, IVAW’s Communications Director explained, “the aim of the dialogue is to shift the conversation on Veterans Day and beyond from one that implicitly supports war by avoiding any conversations of its costs, towards a frank conversation on how U.S. militarism tears at the fabric that bonds our communities and has real impacts on peoples’ lives.” IVAW, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights has been working on the Right to Heal campaign with Iraqi organizations the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI) and the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI).

IVAW also shines a much-needed light on the day-to-day issues facing veterans at home. High numbers of our 22 million veterans – 2.5 million of whom have served in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001 – face ongoing struggles to meet their fundamental human needs. Among homeless men, veterans are still overrepresented, and veteran women are two to four times more likely to be homeless than non-veteran women. 900,000 veterans and 5,000 active military personnel rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as Food Stamps, all of whom had their assistance reduced as of November this year. Current proposals for cuts mean that around 170,000 veterans would lose this vital assistance. 246,000 veterans are currently out of work, with the rate of unemployment among recent veterans surpassing the rate of unemployment in the general U.S. population. Furthermore, although many recent veterans are covered by health services provided by the Veterans Administration (for five years after returning home), more than a million veterans do not have health insurance, with around half of that number having incomes below the Medicaid threshold, again with many of the least well off being recent veterans.

Drawing connections between the fundamental unmet needs of veterans and the unmet needs within communities generally, Geoff Millard, the Chair of IVAW, stated “we know that when we invest in programs such as Housing First and Supportive Services for Veteran Families, they work – veteran homelessness fell by 17% last year and it is anticipated that this year’s figures will show a further drop.  Despite its problems, the post Second World War GI Bill [the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944] made a huge difference to millions of veterans, and to our communities more broadly, because we invested in funding grants for folks to obtain housing, education and other training, start businesses etc. This, and other policies, that are designed to provide care for veterans should provide a blueprint for policies that benefit everyone. We need to reject notions of the deserving and undeserving poor.  We shouldn’t be leaving out people just because they didn’t go to war.”

Honoring our veterans means having them come home to a society that guarantees human rights and meets the fundamental needs of everyone. We need to move beyond temporary fixes, shelter accommodation and selective support to ensure everyone has access to adequate housing on a sustainable basis. The bottom-line is that public funds should follow basic human needs first and foremost. As Geoff stated, we must “invest in programs that work for everyone.”

IVAW is building connections with other allied organizations – unions, human rights organizations and activists – seeing all these issues as interconnected. In Chicago, IVAW worked with the nurses union to acquire appropriate staffing levels to secure care for veterans facing PTSD or dealing with the aftermath of sexual abuse. As Geoff explained, “we need to ensure that the jobs that weren’t there when people joined the military and left for war, are there to begin with so they don’t need to join the military [and] … to secure the public policies that we know work, such as supportive housing, that came from investing in programs such as the World War II G.I. Bill.”  To genuinely honor our veterans, we must build a society of peace and justice, one that only ever thinks of war as a last resort, if at all, and one where all people can live lives of dignity. While we build movement for human rights in our own country, we stand in solidarity with everyone struggling to rebuild their lives after the ravages of war at home and abroad. To our friends in IVAW: your work is of immense importance to the human rights movement, and for all you do, thank you.

To find out more about IVAW, please click here

To find out more about the Right to Heal campaign, click here.