Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Poverty In America: Military Veterans, Health And Homelessness

By Paul Shalala in Syracuse, New York
The Syracuse VA Hospital

The United States is referred to as the land of opportunities, the land of plenty and the land of the free.

Americans pride themselves with so many inventions, an admirable system of governance and the largest economy.

With one of the modest and well funded militaries in the world, the US recruits thousands of people into its armed forces per year.

At the same time, thousands more are discharged due to age, injury or bad behavior.

Across the United States, millions of former soldiers (veterans) are re-integrated into society while others who cannot afford housing are kept by the federal government in some facilities.

"We currently have 21 million veterans from the various departments under the military," said Robert McLean, a Public Affairs Officer at the Syracuse Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital.

The hospital cares for former servicemen from the 13 counties of northern and western New York State.

Mr McLean, a former US Marine, says the Syracuse VA Hospital has an annual budget of $290 million, most of which goes towards paying of salaries for the 1, 700 employees.

The hospital offers various health services such as behavioral change, counselling, dental care, spine care, post traumatic stress, mental treatment and most illnesses connected with war.

Mr McLean, who recently took a group of 2016 Mandela Washington Fellows on a tour of the multi-story facility, revealed that a number of veterans who are homeless and poor are kept and cared for at the hospital.

"We are keeping a number of veterans as you can see. These are people who can not manage to feed themselves. We have a room where they watch TV, a room which is well decorated to reflect a military facility so that it can suit their previous life," said Mr McLean, pointing to a wall which has pictures of fighter jets, US flags and soldiers.

For poor soldiers who can not afford to be treated at expensive hospitals, VA hospitals is their home until the day they will breathe their last.

But for veterans who are poor but still energetic, the Department of Veterans Affairs has a program were they source for land and build houses for the former soldiers and resettle them.

During the tour, this blogger saw a number of resident veterans who were confined to wheelchairs but were actively moving around.
McLean briefing the Mandela Washington Fellows

The veterans have another open room where they play sports to keep them fit.

On an annual basis, an average of 47,000 veterans are treated at the Syracuse VA Hospital.

The Department of Veterans Affairs runs several of such hospitals across the US and offers these same services to veterans within the 50 states.

The department has an annual budget of $169 billion and according to Mr McLean, it is the second largest US Cabinet agency.

Apart from health care, the department also provides benefits to veterans, handles burials and runs cemeteries where veterans are buried.

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