Apocalypse again

Published December 10, 2004 2:28AM (EST)

The next generation of shattered U.S. soldiers is already returning home and landing out in the streets. The number of ailing, homeless Iraq veterans doesn't yet begin to approach the fallout from Vietnam, but according to this UPI report, homeless advocates and mental health professionals are seeing the first of what they worry will be a much larger, longer-term trend.

"U.S. veterans from the war in Iraq are beginning to show up at homeless shelters around the country, and advocates fear they are the leading edge of a new generation of homeless vets not seen since the Vietnam era. 'When we already have people from Iraq on the streets, my God,' said Linda Boone, executive director of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. 'I have talked to enough (shelters) to know we are getting them. It is happening and this nation is not prepared for that.'

"'This is what happened with the Vietnam vets. I went to Vietnam,' said John Keaveney, chief operating officer of New Directions, a shelter and drug-and-alcohol treatment program for veterans in Los Angeles. That city has an estimated 27,000 homeless veterans, the largest such population in the nation. 'It is like watching history being repeated,' Keaveney said.

"Data from the Department of Veterans Affairs shows that as of last July, nearly 28,000 veterans from Iraq sought health care from the VA. One out of every five was diagnosed with a mental disorder, according to the VA. An Army study in the New England Journal of Medicine in July showed that 17 percent of service members return ing from Iraq met screening criteria for major depression, generalized anxiety disorder or PTSD."

One Marine, now in a shelter run by U.S. VETS in Los Angeles, described some of the images burned into his memory from the fighting in Iraq -- including the inadvertent killing of civilians at roadblocks.

"'We had a few situations where, I guess, people were trying to get out of the country. They would come right at us and they would not stop,' Lance Cpl. James Claybon Brown Jr., 23, said. 'We had to open fire on them. It was really tough. A lot of soldiers, like me, had trouble with that.'

"'That was the hardest part,' Brown continued. 'Not only were there men, but there were women and children -- really little children. There would be babies with arms blown off. It was something hard to live with.'"

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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