War on homelessness: U.S. veterans deserve a roof over their heads

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It is the shame of America. The Department of Veteran Affairs reports that 48,000 veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 are either homeless or in a special program to keep them off the streets.

While the total of homeless veterans from other wars is declining, the number of homeless men and women from the nation’s two most recent wars is going up. This has prompted the VA to expand its efforts to identify those now living without a roof over their heads.

This year and next, the VA will disburse $300 million in grants to community groups that have made finding shelter for homeless vets a priority. The grants will also fund a range of social services, including drug counseling and mental health resources.

Making sure each of these soldiers has a safe place to eat and sleep is the least society can do for those who have sacrificed for the nation. Having served their country, often with multiple deployments that in some cases led to physical and mental afflictions as well as lost earning power and broken relationships, the veterans are owed more than cheap accolades.

The White House saluted Phoenix, Ariz., last month for being the first city in the nation to end homelessness among veterans. Philadelphia and Chicago are trying to follow its lead with creative initiatives and commitment of resources to get veterans into modest housing that can accommodate a spouse and children.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty. It must also become the first year of a much-needed war on veterans’ homelessness.

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