In the heart of silicon valley is a relatively small little town where I grew up. It was originally an agricultural town and considered a summer home for the affluent from San Francisco. Founded in 1906, this town had 200 people in 1930 and now has around 28,000 people. What started out as a small rural area with farmlands and train depots has turned into one of the most affluent areas in California, with sprawling homes in over one acre lots in the mountains. The downtown is quaint with high end stores and restaurants and the streets lined with luxury cars. On any given day there are expensively dressed people walking up and down main street; some with their kids, some with their dogs, and some just by themselves. Every Sunday my family and I stroll through downtown after breakfast at a family owned cafe, passing by other families doing the same thing; strolling through the streets stopping to pick up coffee and danish while shopping. If recession hit the US, you would not know by looking at the residents of this town. Life is definitely good.
However, there is one thing the stands out, something that just does not fit in the sea of wealthy people. His name is Tom or it could be Joe, no one knows for sure since he answers to both, and he is a homeless man who has set up his “home” in the little alleyway between a little french cafe and the local bank. Tom/Joe can be seen riding his bike in his fatigues with all his belongings stuffed in a bag and hung on the handle bar. He is the male version of a bag lady. This town is known in the area for its affluence, so why is there an anomaly like this? This man used to live in Los Altos. He spent his childhood growing up in this town and was given the house when his parents later passed away. Why is he not living in his house? Is it because of the financial crisis? Was it foreclosed? No. This man is a Vietnam veteran and when he came back he couldn’t find a job. He was injured during the war and after his treatment was released to fend for himself. The benefits he received was not enough to sustain himself. He couldn’t afford to keep the house that had been in his family for generations. With his head injuries and PTSD, he was having trouble going back to the life he once had. His injuries make it almost impossible for people to help him and veteran services just didn’t help enough. For the rest of his life, he will continue to roam around downtown Los Altos living off the food people provide him.
Veterans day was this past Friday and while it is great we have a day to honor those who have served us, we need to do more for those that risk their lives to protect us and our freedoms. There needs to be a better program set up in place to help those returning from war, especially the young ones. As you recall, the Vietnam war was highly protested in college campuses around the United States. Veterans returning stayed away from campuses because of the disrespect they faced. It was a tough environment for veterans to return to. In Eric Shisenki’s article in the Wall Street, Why Veterans Make Good Employees, he states that, “there was an air of disdain for the military and for those who had served in Vietnam–nothing confrontational, nothing openly disrespectful, but studied indifference.” This attitude continues to be exacerbated even today by the anti-war faction. Case in point, as a response to a school wide request for donations for a care package drive to send to our troops, Professor Avery of the Suffolk University Law School wrote “I think it is shameful that it is perceived as legitimate to solicit in an academic institution for support for men and women who have gone overseas to kill other human beings.” This, supposedly learned, man failed to make a distinction between the war and the warrior. Our troops do not have a choice on whether to fight in our wars, Congress determines that. If he has to direct his ire, it should be against the war, not the troops and he should direct it towards congress and the president, not our heroes. Does he also not distinguish between killing a human beings versus killing enemy combatants? Ironically, it is these men and women in uniform who even allowed him the freedom to make such a statement. I would challenge him to make such incendiary statements in Moscow where he attended school. Learned maybe, smart definitely not.
In 2008, a bill was passed to improve the G.I. bill the United States had in place since WWII which finances education for many veterans. While this has helped in a lot of ways, there is also an increasing problem with homeless veterans.With more and more people entering the armed forces, the current federal programs will not be able to sustain substantial benefits for the veterans. What should we do about it? Well unfortunately, the United States like the rest of the world is going through a financial crisis. Even if we had the money, though, throwing money at the existing programs will not alleviate the situation. What needs to happen is a restructuring of the federal programs as well as state programs in order to ensure that soldiers returning from service will be better provided for and become productive members of this society if they so chose to leave the armed forces instead of leaving them to fend for themselves and struggle to survive. What also needs to change is our attitude. Let us ensure the vets are integrated back into society. Let us ensure they are included as diversity in our hiring efforts in the private and public sector. Let us give them the adulation they deserve for selflessly serving us. They have done a lot for this nation and it is only right that we give back.
To Joe/Tom and others like him out there: a salute and my heartfelt gratitude.