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Central Oregon Veterans Outreach, Inc.

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Veterans Helping Veterans

Men and women who have been in combat, have seen the look in the eyes of the young soldier in the photograph to the right. Whether you call it, "The Thousand Meter Stare," or something more personal, it is a look that can still be seen in the eyes of some veterans of all wars. Many of our young soldiers who fought in the Persian Gulf War, as well as those returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, have the look and some of them are beginning to show up at homeless shelters around the country. Even in Central and Eastern Oregon, this phenomenon is occurring on a daily basis.

On a recent Thursday, members of COVO went to a site where homeless people gather for hot coffee and day-old-pastries. Of the thriteen individuals who showed up that day, five were veterans. Two had served in Vietnam, two had served during times of peace, and one young man had served in the Persian Gulf War. He had the look--the "stare"--and we knew instinctively that he needed help. This young man had seen heavy combat as a Marine reconnasisance team member and he had been homeless for a lot of the past ten yearsm living at various shelters arounf the country. After talking with him, we knew he needed help with employment and possible benefits from the VA. It was clear to us that he had post traumatic stress disorder, having fought substance abuse problems, failed relationships and many of the other primary symptoms of PTSD since his honorable discharge. Despite the fact that COVO was not yet incorporated, we made a decision to help our younger brother.

Thanks to the Bend office of the Oregon Veterans Employment Service and COVO directors, Jim Gunn and Dick Gorby, this young man now has a full-time job and we are about to begin assisting him with access to the VA medical system and benefits process. Based upon our research and extrapolating from national statistics, we now know that during any given year, there will be at least 1,500 homeless veterans in Central and Eastern Oregon. In that regard, there is not a single program in the eighteen counties east of the Cascades that is veteran-specific and none of the homeless shelters has set aside beds for veterans. In fact, we know from talking with shelter providers in our area of operations that at least 25% of the homeless men seeking shelter are veterans.

According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, "Nearly one-third of Oregon's homeless people are veterans, according to the State of Oregon...Oregon is part of a DVA network that includes Alaska, Idaho and Washington. This network reported the highest percentage of homeless veterans hospitalized for mental health reasons this past year (47.5 percent), which is almost 23 percentage points higher than the DVA's national average (27.9 percent). The network ranked fifth in the nation for the percentage of homeless veterans with acute psychiatric disorders (27.9 percent) and fourth in the nation for admissions of homeless veterans with substance abuse problems (60 percent, which is nearly double the national average of 35.3 percent)."

As veterans of the Vietnam War, or service during the Vietnam era, the officers and directors of COVO have made a decision to help those veterans in Central and Eastern Oregon who are homeless, at risk of being homeless, or among the working poor.

Vietnam1968

"Vietnam, 1968," Don McCullin, No. 41, "The 100 Greatest Military Photographs," Military Times Publishing Company (2000)

No Man Left Behind--Never Again Will One Generation of Veterans Abandon Another

Some of your sons and daughters, your neighbors' sons and daughters, either already need this program, or they will in the future. One of the things about post traumatic stress disorder and its various symptoms is that in many cases the illness does not manifest itself until many years after the traumatic event occurs. Some thirty years after the end of the Vietnam War, veterans now in their late fifties and early sixties are coming to the Department of Veterans Affairs for the first time, seeking treatment for PTSD, years of substance abuse and combat-related medical problems.

Given the very nature of the subsequent wars and conflicts in Grenada, Panama, Beirut, Somalia, Bosnia, the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no doubt that many veterans of those wars either do or will have PTSD. Recent news stories have reported that veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are already showing up in homeless shelters and the military estimates that as many as 30% of combat veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan will return with some level of PTSD.

According to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, "Data from the Department of Veterans Affairs shows that as ofJuly [2004], nearly 28,000 veterans from Iraq sought healthcare from the VA. One out of every five was diagnosed with a mental disorder, according to the VA. An Army study...in July [2004] showed that 17 percent of service members returning from Iraq met screening criteria for major depression, generalized anxiety disorder or PTSD." Thus, based upon this recent research, we are likely to see a large number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with mental health problems showing up in homeless shelters.

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