Vets and Refugees: Us AND Them

“Let’s take care of our own!” The concern for American Veterans has bubbled to the surface as a rationale for why the United States should not receive any refugees. The concern would be moving if it were not so disingenuous. According to the Disabled Veterans National Foundation’s web site, veterans are 50% more likely to become homeless. The primary causes are “poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.” The statistics are rather staggering. According to the DVNF. the VA served over 92,000 homeless veterans in 2009. An estimated 500,000 veterans were homeless at some time during that year. It is estimated that the VA reaches 20% of the veterans who are in need, leaving some 400,000 without supportive services.

This gap between veterans’ needs and the services offered is the result of our knee-jerk reaction to crises around the world. With every military victory comes a collateral damage that no one wants to talk about except in sound bites used to support our particular political perspective. And “military victory” has become something of an oxymoron. But to use our unwillingness to care for our own is a sad and sorry excuse for not taking care of the people whose countries are reduced to rubble by all the bombs we drop.

As I was listening to the radio about about a police presence in a Paris community the question arose in my mind: How long would it take for that community to physically resemble what Yarmouk Refugee Camp has come to look like? How many gun shots does it take to destroy a home? How many bombs does it take to level a neighborhood?

We in this country aren’t soft on crime. We aren’t soft on terrorism. The only thing we are soft on is ourselves. We are unwilling to consider the horrific cost of our commitment to violence. The Biblical and proverbial “log in your own eye” is applicable here. To those who are advocates for our own veterans, how much are you willing to spend to take care of these brave men and women whose spirits are compromised and minds are confused for their having been thrust into combat? We come up with endless amounts of cash to get weapons and send folks off to war. When it comes to paying for the emotional aftermath we suddenly run out of money and compassion.

Just try to get a shelter in place in your community. See what happens when someone gets serious about providing short term housing for one of our estimated 50,000 homeless veterans – suddenly everyone’s back yard is too precious to be soiled by such a lot as these “heroes” of ours. When guns and “huzzah’s are replaced by the bottle and “Can you spare a dime“, the shine comes off the initial glamour of it all as quickly as our pride turns to embarrassment.

It’s not that we can’t address homelessness; it’s that we don’t. It’s not that we can’t afford to welcome refugees; it’s that we won’t. And for all the braggadocio of sites like “Louder with Crowder”, it’s time to tone down our nationalism. It’s time to own up to our fears and our insecurities. It’s time to stop pretending and playing this silly and dangerous game of power while we cower in the reality of our vulnerability. For both our veterans in need and the refugees in crisis, we have to accept the responsibility for the pain all of us are creating.


Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.

  • Svein Gustav Hoff

    I liked this text. Time to take care of the vets!