Thursday, July 15, 2010

Homeless Vet and Military Kid Grants--Thank you Capt. Obvious

On Tuesday of this week our local papers (San Diego Union Tribune and North County Times) had articles on grants which have just been awarded for different purposes in San Diego County to help vets and the kids of military personnel (DPs when I was a military brat—which means dependent).

Now on the surface, both of these are good. One grant of $33 million over 5 years from the Department of Defense is going to San Diego to pay for a “40-bed rehabilitation center aimed at the most chronic homeless veterans with alcohol, drug and psychological problems.”

Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami and Denver are also receiving grants. These grants will be used to build new centers for veterans to receive care in a residential environment which might not otherwise be available.

According to the article, San Diego County is home to 235,000 veterans and the VA estimates that at least 2,000 are living on the street. According to Clay King, VA social work chief in San Diego, “if a veteran is going to have trouble with civilian life, it usually takes a few years for career plans to falter, bank accounts to empty and relationships to unravel.”

The effort apparently is designed to help the current generation of veterans avoid some of the trauma, lack of service and homelessness that have plagued many Viet Nam era vets.

Now I’ll get back to that in a bit when I start my rant but first I want to move on to the next grant that was awarded.

The University of Southern California has received a $7.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense “to monitor and address the social, academic and emotional challenges faced by children whose parents are deployed” according to USC’s School of Social Work. The research will study needs in several school districts in North San Diego County all of which have high numbers of students who have a parent in the military.

USC researchers will use “state data on after-school activities, student safety, drug use and school connectedness to determine where help is needed for military children.”

Now this is another piece of research which has relevance.

But first of all, aren’t both of these projects anywhere from 40 to 50 years late? Where the hell was the VA in the late 60s and 70s when Vets were coming home from Viet Nam as draftees who were broken men? And, if there are only 2,000 on the street here in San Diego then I have a full head of hair.

And, a 40 bed facility? How about a 400 bed facility? That might make a dent in the level of PTSD vets needing long term treatment, care and counseling just in our little corner of Southern California. I get the impression that someone’s taking a token approach and getting a sore elbow from patting themselves on the back. Whatever is being spent, and the article mentioned a figure of $3.2 billion, it’s not enough. Good Lord, we send these guys over to Iraq or Afghanistan multiple times and then don’t take care of them when they come home. And the outcome in terms of mental and physical health was totally predictable.

At least the VA and DOD announced recently that they are changing the rules when it comes to claims of PTSD so that the Vet doesn’t have to recall pretty much every bullet he or she ever heard (i.e. be able to document specific incidents which caused the PTSD). Hell, just being there is likely to cause PTSD and mess you up—let alone deploying 4 or 5 or 6 times.

As for the military dependents—I grew up a military dependent. My wife grew up a military dependent. All of us were messed up in one shape form or fashion. Maybe USC could save a few million just by buying a few copies of Pat Conroy’s “The Great Santini”. (If you aren’t familiar with the book it’s a classic, quasi true story of a military family in the 1960s at a Marine Corps base in South Carolina). I long believed that there is a thing that could be called “Great Santini Syndrome” from which military dependents suffer. However a lot of it is also self-inflicted.

When a dad lives and works in a high control, potentially violent environment there is a carry over into the home. It’s as simple as that. And when military families PCS (that’s military-ese for moving) often times kids decide that they don’t like where they just moved to and they withdraw and engage in other negative behaviors. Yeah, the study needs to look at the levels of engagement that the kids have in their school life and compare the data—but they also need to take a look at the dynamic within the family which wittingly and unwittingly impacts on the entire family.

From my own personal history, I recall showing up for my junior year of high school in October, 1967 in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I had never lived “on base” before. We were bussed the 15 miles to town each day for high school. My first day of school, I was sent to the office by the end of the morning for nearly getting into a fight.

I had never encountered comments before like “base trash” or “get the Raid out, fly’s here” (fly referring to someone whose father was in the Air Force). I was told by the assistant principal that by being “from the base” that I was an outsider and I was supposed to “take it” from the town kids and that the only reason I wasn’t being suspended was that this was my first day at the school.

The researchers can start by reading “The Great Santini”. Because that’s about the only way that the academics and student interns will have any hope of being able to understand it without having lived it.

And finally, yes indeed, kudos to the VA—even if the effort is a full generation late. Hopefully it can provide some service to people currently on the street and keep some of the most recent vets from a life which degenerates to the street.

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