Not all Images of America evoke positive emotions like gratitude, pride, wonder, or joy. Some images tell us about our shortcomings. The image I picked today from our gallery is one of them: a photograph of homeless veterans, military volunteers, and civilian volunteers saluting the American flag at a Stand Down for Homeless Veterans.
What feelings does it stir in you?
This image was suggested to me by a participant at a talk I gave this week about my new book, United America. I had an occasion to sit with him and have him review our gallery images. A few of the images spoke to him, but it was this photograph that he kept coming back to. I asked him why.
“No one realizes how much the military has done to protect our freedom, and how much the veterans have suffered,” he said. “It’s like it’s no big deal. Our government has not really taken care of our veterans all that well.” He related a story of a decorated colonel who had served with distinction in Afghanistan but couldn’t get a job when he came home. The veteran now lives out of his car, he told me.
Stand Downs, like the one pictured here, are attempts by the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide services to homeless veterans. As described by the VA, a Stand Down is normally a three-day event that provides food, shelter, clothing, health screenings, VA and Social Security benefits counseling, and referrals to a variety of other necessary services, such as housing, employment and substance abuse treatment. Stand Downs are collaborative events, coordinated between local VAs, other government agencies, and community agencies who serve the homeless.
An estimated 57,849 veterans were homeless on a single night in January 2013, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That figure is down from 76,329 on a single night in 2010. This downward trend in a positive development but we still have a long way to go. In my new book, I call veterans our “newest minority” because they are a systematically disadvantaged group.
When you look at this picture, what do you feel?
Have you participated in a Stand Down?
Why don’t we do more for our veterans?
- American Images: Star-Spangled Banner & a Flag on the Moon
- American Images: Climbing into the Promised Land
- American Images: Annual Stand Down for Homeless Veterans
- Images of America: Mark Twain, Critical Patriot
- Images of America: Lincoln Memorial