Veterans Day in America was originally Armistice Day, which honors the armistice signed on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month that signaled the end of WWI.
The holiday later evolved to honor the sacrifice and service of all our veterans. This November 11th, communities across the country will celebrate with parades and tributes for our servicemen.
But there’s a big problem facing our veterans that’s being overlooked.
Homelessness Problem Facing Veterans
There are currently an estimated 47,725 homeless veterans — ranging from conflicts as far back as WWII all the way up to the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And due to problems like poverty, governmental assistance problems, and a lack of support networks, 1.4 million more veterans are at risk for homelessness.
Melissa Haley, a director at Volunteers of America in New Orleans, told NPR in an article that “Homelessness is a continuous process. There’s a veteran right now who is in a home who could very well be homeless tomorrow.”
Even with falling rates in recent years, homelessness remains a very real problem for vets. To see statistics on the estimated number of homeless veterans in your state, click here.
Communities Come Together
Unfortunately, homelessness usually stems from a lack of much-needed support — and this means that many veterans also die alone. But communities are taking a stand.
Here are some inspiring examples of people ensuring that no veteran dies alone:
- In Detroit, a group of high-schoolers started a new after-school activity where they volunteer as pallbearers for homeless veterans in their community. The initial group started with just six kids who carried caskets for three homeless veterans, but the idea has grown immensely. Working with a local funeral home, more than 50 students have attended two separate training sessions for the new program.
- In a small town in Iowa, veteran Charles Lanam was set to be buried. With no known family members, the formerly homeless veteran’s ceremony was looking at an attendance of zero. That is until Funeral Director Marty Mitchell asked the community to step up. In a heartfelt post to Facebook, Mitchell asked the community to help pay respect to Lanam. The post was shared more than 1,500 times and hundreds of visitors came to honor the late veteran at his funeral.
- In Boston, when 82-Year-Old Veteran George Whelan died, he had neither a home nor a known family. But the funeral director in charge, Bill Lawler, still wanted to give Whelan the honor he deserved. Instead of taking the normal route to the military cemetery for veterans in Massachusetts, Lawler decided to go on a longer, more interesting route. As he told the Boston Globe, “It’s Mr. Whelan’s last ride. I’d like it to be more scenic, more peaceful for him.” The funeral was attended by Lawler and a few servicemen from the military cemetery. As Whelan was laid to rest, Lawler read the poem Let Us Never Forget by Margaret Schroeder.
Resources to Help
As Veterans Day nears, let us never forget the sacrifice and service of veterans everywhere.
Here are some great resources and ideas that can help you make a difference for our veterans:
- Contact local branches of the American Legion, VFW, or Veterans Affairs to organize charity/fundraiser events.
- Organize a volunteer group to participate in a Stand Down — a program to bring dental/healthcare, hygiene, food, and other resources to homeless veterans.
- Work with hospice and palliative care groups to start a No Veteran Dies Alone volunteer group in your community.