Calling the issue "hugely important," the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today said the nation must fully integrate efforts to help homeless veterans.
"How do we reach out to them, and how do we create opportunities?" Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen asked an audience of about 200 members of various organizations that make up the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans in a speech at the Grand Hyatt Washington Hotel here.
"I consider [homeless veterans] to be a hugely important issue," Mullen said. "We need to do everything we can, as a country, to fully integrate our efforts to understand and help those – our veterans – who have given so much."
The coalition, which is holding its annual convention this week, is dedicated to strengthening and increasing funding for homeless veteran assistance programs, ranging from employment to housing issues. It provides information about program development and administration, as well as governance and funding guidance to all of the nation's homeless veteran service providers, according to the organization's Web site.
Mullen shared his appreciation for the coalition and its work.
"I am incredibly grateful for what you do and keeping [homeless veteran] issues bubbling; not just based on homeless veterans of [the war on terror], but of the entire population and past wars," he said.
Mullen spoke about his generation of servicemembers and serving during the Vietnam War era. Vietnam veterans make up a large percentage of the homeless veterans in the country, said Mullen, who received his commission in 1968.
He expressed his sympathy for the many homeless Vietnam veterans who weren't aware of post-traumatic stress syndrome and who have battled unemployment for years because of the disability. He also revealed his concern for veterans of more recent and current conflicts.
"One of the things I said when [operations in Iraq] started in 2003, 'As we go back to war and put so many people in harm's way, I would do all I can not to generate another generation of homeless veterans as we did when I was growing up with Vietnam,'" he said. "I had no clue in 2003 that I would eventually be in the position I am in now, but now that I am, I'm anxious to help."
Mullen reiterated his point that tackling the homeless veterans issue has to be a collective and integrated effort at the local and national levels among the government, society and nonprofit organizations, such as the coalition.
"The vision isn't anything without execution," Mullen said. "It has to be a team effort, and I'm truly grateful for what [the coalition] is doing."
The coalition's convention features workshops about issues such as public policy and current legislation pertaining to homeless veteran issues, reporting and regulation requirements for federal grants, and legal issues veterans may face.
The convention also will provide training groups focused on issues including employment resources for veterans, women veterans, early intervention and prevention of homelessness for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, incarcerated veterans.
By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service