The VA Hospital in Los Angeles is a twenty minute walk from my current home. I went there yesterday to hear the prognosis on my collarbone (which is surgery next Friday.) To get there, I walked east on Wilshire Avenue for the short journey to see the doctor. On my way, I passed multiple homeless people laying on the ground with wheelchairs next to them. This is an all too familiar sight in this city.
I turned up the road to the VA Hospital. Just outside the entrance there were multiple amputees sitting in wheelchairs, some with caregivers and some without. Almost everyone had some kind of military hat or shirt indicating their branch and where they served.
When I sat in the waiting room, I couldn't help but notice that the overwhelming majority (80%+) of other patients were minorities (predominantly African American.) This is a stunning ratio relative to the overall minority population in the U.S. I acknowledge that this is only one VA hospital in one major city so perhaps it is different in other Veterans hospitals around the country, although I suspect it isn't.
When I sat down for the initial interview I was immediately asked two questions:
1) Are you homeless?
2) Do you expect to be homeless in the next two months?
I was surprised that these were the first two questions after giving the nurse my name and last 4 digits of my SSN. But maybe I shouldn't have been.
I have no idea if he said it, but Ghandi is often credited with this quote: "The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members." Perhaps that includes those who served in the military.
I have no frame of reference for how the VA was last year or decades ago. There are reasons to be hopeful that things continue to improve. It has been remarkably efficient for me. The President, to his credit, has made taking care of Veterans a front burner issue. There are more charities dedicated to private help for Veterans like the CVN (Cohen Veteran Network.)
But I wonder if we are treating the symptoms instead of looking for a cure.
Wars tend to produce more and more disabled Veterans, both mentally and physically. The military also tends to be the only option for many minorities and lower income families in this country.
What can we do to change that? Could a year of mandatory service for every 18 year old in the country be an answer? Imagine if every American had "skin in the game." Would Congress and the American public be more or less deliberate and cautious when electing to go to war? What if an 18 year old from a rural red state and an 18 year old from an inner city in a blue state worked side by side to help fix our crumbling infrastructure? Would they be more likely to connect as humans and put personal views, based on nothing but some cable news programs, aside? Would long term friendships develop that would bring us together again as Americans? Would we experience humanism, empathy and patience?
I don't know what the answer is to these questions. I would love to hear any ideas from anyone who has some.
I believe in hope. Hopelessness sucks.
Maybe it is time we tried something different to protect our people before they become our most vulnerable.