As usual on Veterans Day, businesses are offering free stuff to veterans. That’s nice and all, but where are they the other 364 days of the year? In this country, as you read this, as much as 14% of the homeless population has served in the military. Of those homeless veterans, 41% are in unsheltered locations. About half suffer from severe mental illness and 70% have substance abuse issues. Right now, the unemployment rate among veterans is 12%. $31,000,000 of SNAP funds were spent in military commissaries and 1 in 5 households that benefit from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program have a veteran living in them. Homeless veterans are 11% more likely to develop life-threatening diseases than non-veteran homeless folks. All these statistics lead me to one inescapable conclusion: The United States is failing veterans of its armed forces miserably.
Perhaps one of the saddest parts of this is the dearth of action on the part of the church. Many churches have lavish services on Veterans Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, but they do almost nothing the rest of the year to help the veterans they claim to honor. In truth, the church as a whole does a poor job with the homeless and poor. Many have food pantries, clothing closets and other things for outreach. But, all too often, they have an ulterior motive: proselytizing. There are multiple problems with that. One, someone who’s hungry, cold and outdoors doesn’t really give a damn about your religion; they just want a meal and a chance to get warm. Second, of all the places in the Gospel where Jesus tells us to care for the needy, he never says to put conditions on that care. Go ahead and look, I’ll wait.
The incidence of homelessness and poverty in a country as prosperous as the United States is disgusting. That Christians (and the church) believe that any of these people are shiftless, lazy and only want handouts is ridiculous. And, the fact that any veteran is included in this population is obscene. In organizations like the military, there exists between the individual and the organization an unspoken contract. This contract says that in exchange for risking their lives and months, or even years, spent away from their families, the organization (in this case, the government) will ensure that they and their families are cared for. Allowing these people to live on the street or in poverty violates this contract. It’s about time we started applying the precepts of Matthew 25:31-46 to these people and all those who are in need.