The road ends, but the journey continues...

Giving Voice: NCIS and Homeless Veterans

Yes, I admit, NCIS is my favorite TV show to date.  Quite often this Navy based television series tackles real world military topics.   Indeed, “Shooter” takes a look into the troubling subject of homeless veterans.
Hardly the poster boys and girls for public perception of what it means to be homeless in America, this episode strives to break the stereotypes of homelessness and joblessness.  And while examples given in this article are pulled from the television show, there are countless stories of real vets in real situations clamoring to be heard.
This NCIS episode gives voice to the problem in a way that is easily assimilated into the mindset of our mainstream population; offering entertainment with thought provoking moments written within the scripted dialogue.  “Shooter” makes a great first introduction to the sad state of public and political perception of what it means to be homeless and jobless in America today.

Gibbs: The VA’s got a lot of programs for vets, Doc. I wonder why Durbin was living on the streets.
Ducky: I recently read a HUD report. It estimates on any given night, between fifty and sixty thousand men and women who have served, are sleeping on the streets or in shelters.

Gibbs continues to wonder how men and women who choose to serve, especially the ‘few, and the proud’ end up like the homeless vet character Durbin.  Ducky’s response?
“The shame is that it happens all too often.”
The sense that we as a nation have let our service people down upon returning from active duty is increasing among everyday Americans. News reports regarding the steady deterioration of the VA Health Care system certainly underscore that perception.  The ‘programs for vets’ just aren’t working anymore and it seems no one in authority cares.
Homelessness is often regarded as a state of being due to one’s bad choices made in life. Honorably Discharged Veterans are likely to be viewed as self sacrificing, heroic and admirable individuals.  Pairing the two words homeless and veterans together makes for a combination worth pondering.  The resultant term Homeless Veterans stands as a conundrum, grabbing the attention of those who encounter its use.
And yet, statistics state that military veterans account for between 12-15% of the adult homeless population. Those stats are even further troubling in that one out of four documented homeless people are military veterans.

“The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have brought renewed attention to the needs of veterans, including the needs of homeless veterans. Researchers have found both male and female veterans to be overrepresented in the homeless population, and as the number of veterans increases due to these conflicts, there is concern that the number of homeless veterans could rise commensurately.  The 2007-2009 recession and the subsequent slow economic recovery also raised concerns that homelessness could increase among all groups, including veterans.”  Libby Perl, Veterans and Homelessness, February 4, 2013

Homelessness has indeed increased among all groups, including veterans. A big chunk of those service men and women fall into financial straits leading to home foreclosures within the first year of returning from active duty.  After lengthy attempts to regain footing within the current job environment, many are unable to resume gainful employment outside the military. homeless vet comic
Joblessness as a key factor in the descent into homelessness is a reality that plays out too often for many of our otherwise fully functional vets coming back to the States.
There will always be those who insist ‘well, they came back messed up, that’s why they’re out on the streets,’ as an excuse to withhold compassion and justify passivity.
Thankfully, there are at least as many, if not more among us who see beyond the stereotypes, roll up their sleeves and dive into the practical work of offering a ‘hand-up, not a hand-out.’




  1. Jayne

    Thanks for sharing this. I have a tendency to walk around in “la la land,” ignorant to many of the sad issues of our society.

    • laura bruno lilly

      You’re most welcome, Jayne. Thank you for stopping by my site.

  2. Anna Scott Graham

    What a provoking beginning to your series. It’s as if veterans become invisible once they return, even if so much hoopla is afforded via the media. Is a serviceman/woman’s honor only viable if they are engaged in active duty? Are they then considered disposable, and their whereabouts are irrelevant?
    (I muse about this in part for all the recent kudos to the troops heralded in pro football, but your post evokes a very different side to serving in the armed forces, not to mention homelessness…)

    • laura bruno lilly

      Unfortunately invisibility is a major societal reaction to anyone who falls outside the perceived typical American ‘norm’.
      Your observation that there is much visibility in situations such as during pro-games (baseball, football, etc) is one I hadn’t recognized. Makes the reality of what awaits many of these service (wo)men once they return even more tragic.

  3. deborahbrasket

    What a timely and important post! The cartoon with the bumper sticker is spot-on. There’s a lot of sentiment about honoring our vets, but not enough true, effective effort. No vet should lose their home because they cannot find a job. And the fact that so many do come home “messed up” should increase our compassion and desire to help them, not be an excuse to toss them aside.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Thank you Deborah for your comment. It is a concise summary of the ‘take-aways’ I’d hoped would be evident in the post.
      I’ve read enough of your posts on similar subject matter to know you don’t ‘toss aside’ those ‘messed up’ regardless of how they got that way…
      peace to you my flower-sister

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