Our service men and women sacrifice more than we think. Sacrifices stretch far beyond the battlefield and permeate the lives of veterans well after active duty. Too many men and women who served our country and put their lives on the line are not taken care of when they return home. The result is hundreds of thousands of veterans who endure unnecessary suffering.
Like many other Vietnam veterans, I was met with neglect and indifference from a society that was in a rush to forget the Vietnam War. Unable to separate the war from the warrior, our nation lacked the political will to support returning veterans and as a result, leadership failed to provide programs and services for veterans. In fact, there was an entire decade of neglect in which only a handful of grassroots groups like Swords to Plowshares were able to exist from the support of the community. Too many Vietnam veterans were never able to get back on their feet –even today. And so it is no surprise that veterans continue to lead the nation in homelessness, joblessness, substance abuse, depression and suicide. As veterans return from service today, we must remember the hardships my generation faced so that so that we can prevent unnecessary suffering.
We all can feel good when we say we “Support the Troops.” Gratitude and praise are simply not enough. We need to care about what happens AFTER service because the reality is that the transition into civilian life is unmanageable for some. In order to truly support our service men and women we must provide a continuum of care for veterans when they return to “normal life”.
There are some programs available to veterans where they can find support, resources and gain help accessing their benefits, but unfortunately many are not comprehensive. Providing health and social services; transitional and permanent housing; employment and training; and legal services, Swords is the leading veteran service organization with the most comprehensive model.
I have been with Swords for the past 33 years and am proud that our programs have evolved to meet the changing needs of veterans. With so many men and women returning from service, we need programs like ours more than ever. We know that there is no cookie cutter approach to providing supportive services, which is why our model transforms lives and it works. We focus on the distinct and urgent needs of the most vulnerable veterans like Vietnam veterans who faced neglect and hardships and Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who need immediate preventative care and services in order to successfully transition from combat to community. In San Francisco we are able to help so many of these vulnerable veterans.
There are many misguided notions that because of its progressive nature, San Francisco lacks patriotism. However, the City and County of San Francisco disprove those notions – offering more resources and services to veterans than any other city in the nation. It is because of the support of San Francisco that Swords to Plowshares has been able to sustain and expand services for veterans over the past 36 years. The City’s ongoing support can be seen in the donation of a City-owned surplus property, allowing Swords and our community partners to develop Veterans Commons, a supportive housing facility and future home to 75 of San Francisco’s most vulnerable homeless veterans.
We cannot allow a loss of funding, or a decline in public interest, or even the end of the current wars to prevent us from carrying out our mission. The trauma, obstacles and unique experiences our nation’s service members face cannot be switched off. Addressing these needs requires long-term committed. Supporting organizations like Swords to Plowshares is a way to truly “Support our Troops” in deeds not words.
For more information, visit www.swords-to-plowshares.org
Michael Blecker is a Vietnam veteran and has served as the Executive Director of Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco since 1978. Click here for his full bio