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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 103

Sri Lanka Provides Housing for War Veterans while U.S. leaves them homeless

Daya Gamage – US National Correspondent Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 07 August ( Access to permanent housing is consistently the number one service need identified by those concerned with United States veteran issues. Further, reports indicate that armed services personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are seeking help with housing sooner than past cohorts of (Vietnam or ’91 Gulf War) veterans. Housing programs targeted to veterans are limited in capacity. The General Accounting Office (GAO), the non-partisan research office of the US government, found that the Grants and Per Diem Program, the primary housing program for homeless veterans, was not meeting current need. Further, the only program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that provides targeted supportive housing to veterans with serious mental illness and substance use disorders, HUD-VASH, serves only 1,780 veterans.

And, this is the sorry story how the U.S. system is organized to pay gratitude to the men and women in uniform who fought and fighting two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in its Global War on Terrorism. The war in Afghanistan is a war of necessity, and the war in Iraq is a war of choice.

In contrast, a small developing nation in South Asia which is located off the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka, while handling a Herculean task of re-settling 270,000 ethnic Tamil civilians now in government run internment centers in the once war zone in the north of the country has undertaken another colossal project with the collaboration and active participation of Sri Lankan expatriates in Western nations like in the United States to raise funds to build houses for its men and women in uniform as showing the utmost gratitude for liberating the nation from a ruthless terrorist/separatist Tamil Tigers in mid-May this year.

The first re-settlement project is an undertaking to redress the suffering of the innocent Tamil civilians caught in the middle of the battle between the government forces and the Tamil Tiger fighting cadre in the north of Sri Lanka. The Tigers were holding these 270,000-odd civilians as human shields to hold back the advancing military until the top leadership of the terrorist outfit find space to escape for safety. This was the most humanitarian task this South Asian nation has undertaken since it gained independence in 1948 from the British.

The second project is designed by the Sri Lanka government to honor and pay gratitude to those who laid down their lives and fought to save not only their nation’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and democracy but also to emancipate the captive Tamil people by the Tigers.

Toward the second project Sri Lankans in the United States have been enthusiastically raising funds under a Sri Lanka government sponsored project ‘Api Weniwen Api’ (Be Together for All).

It is an irony in Sri Lanka’s history that two brothers are personally involved and directing operations of both these projects: The resettlement of the 270,000 ethnic Tamil civilians is handled by Sri Lanka president’s chief political advisor and strategist parliamentarian Basil Rajapaksa, while the second project to provide houses to the destitute war veterans is headed by the man who laid the strategy to defeat the once ‘invincible’ Tamil Tigers - Defense Secretary Colonel Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Their older brother the democratically-elected president of the nation Mahinda Rajapaksa has the historic task of resuscitating the three-decade battle scarred nation.

How does the United States which often lectures Sri Lanka how to get about with the reconciliation between majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils following the Tamil Tiger defeat in May 2009, how to safeguard human rights, rule of law, good governance and justice to all treat its own war veterans who join the homeless communities in many American cities following their return from the Afghanistan and Iraq battlefields in contrast to Sri Lanka’s undertakings to provide decent living conditions to 270,000 ethnic minority Tamil civilians that they never experienced under the Pol Potist LTTE rule and provide housing facilities to its own war veterans who fought to liberate the nation and the captive Tamils in the northern region?

Why Does U.S. Allow her War Veterans be Homeless?

There are almost 200,000 homeless veterans in America. News columnist Paul Rieckhoff introduced one such person to his readers:

Less than a year after serving with the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq, twenty-five year old Herold Noel found himself unemployed, homeless, and unable to provide for his wife and four children.

As a homeless Iraq veteran suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and living out of his car in Brooklyn, New York, Herold was not greeted by a support system for veterans. Instead, he met resistance from the Housing Authority In New York), the government agency Veterans Administration, and New York’s city shelter for families, filling out form after form and added to waiting list after waiting list.

According to Herold, “I thought New York was going to look out for me, I just got back from war. I felt like I’d been stabbed in the back.”

Herald is not alone. Already, an estimated 1,500 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are homeless or at risk for homelessness in New York alone. They are joining the increasing ranks of veterans around the country who are homeless.

Veterans represent one-third of the adult homeless population in the Unite States, and that number is rising. While almost 200,000 homeless veterans line the nation’s streets every night, almost twice as many experience homelessness at some point throughout the course of a year.

One Blog wrote: “This is a national disgrace. As Americans we should be ashamed and outraged that the brave men and women of our Armed Forces are being abandoned under bridges, not denying their existence.”

In all of 2006, the Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that 495,400 veterans were homeless at some point during the year.

The group recommends that 5,000 housing units be created per year for the next five years dedicated to the chronically homeless that would provide permanent housing linked to veterans’ support systems. It also recommends funding an additional 20,000 housing vouchers exclusively for homeless veterans, and creating a program that helps bridge the gap between income and rent.

Following those recommendations would cost billions of dollars, but there is some movement in U.S. Congress to increase the amount of money dedicated to homeless veterans programs.

A disproportionate number of American veterans ending up homeless, according to a new report from the Organization National Alliance to End Homelessness released July 2009.

Every fourth time one sees a homeless in the U.S., one can be pretty sure he is war veteran. And it's not just Vietnam Veterans - it is also soldiers returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Veterans represent a quarter of the homeless. By comparison, veterans constitute only 11 percent of the U.S. population.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness, a public education nonprofit, based the findings of its report on numbers from Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau. 2005 data estimated that 194,254 homeless people out of 744,313 on any given night were veterans.

In comparison, the Veteran Administration says that 20 years ago, the estimated number of veterans who were homeless on any given night was 250,000.

Some advocates say the early presence of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan at shelters does not bode well for the future. It took roughly a decade for the lives of Vietnam veterans to unravel to the point that they started showing up among the homeless.

Advocates worry that intense and repeated deployments leave newer veterans particularly vulnerable.

Homelessness, family strains and psychological problems among returning veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will persist in the U.S. for generations to come, the top U.S. military officer said April 2 this year.

"This is not a 10-year problem. It is a 50- or 60- or 70-year problem," Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a lunchtime audience at the Hudson Union Society, a group that promotes nonpartisan debate.

Mullen said he was particularly disturbed by the emergence of homelessness as a problem among war veterans.

"I have started to meet with, in veterans’ hospitals, homeless veterans" of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said. "And they are every bit as homeless and every bit as tragic as any homeless vet we've ever had. We as a country should not allow that to happen."

At a White House news conference in March 2009, President Barack Obama said that some of the funding increases in his proposed budget for veterans affairs are directed at alleviating the problem of homelessness among veterans, which he said is a bigger problem, proportionally, than is homelessness in the rest of the American population.

What Does Sri Lanka endeavor to do?

Members of the armed forces have undergone severe suffering and many have lost their lives bringing peace to Sri Lanka. Because of their dedication, they have not been able to attend to personal and family matters. The families of many service personnel do not have proper shelter. Members of the security forces cannot afford to build a house with their pay, and banks do not release loans without a guarantor. Finding a guarantor has become a difficult task because banks and guarantors do not want to risk backing defense personnel, whose lives are vulnerable.

The above concept taken from Sri Lanka’s official web site Api Wenuwen Api Ranaviru Housing Project Fund was conceived by Defense Secretary Colonel Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa a veteran of Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE was in the forefront of the 1987 Vadamarachchi Offensive which came to a halt due to India’s interference at that time. In disgust he left the country shortly after to the United States and was an IT specialist until he was recalled in late 2005 to become the defense secretary.

He successfully led the offensive against the Tamil Tigers to liberate the north and east whose predominant Tamil population was under the despotic clutches of the Tiger outfit with no human rights, free speech, free movement, rule of law and democratic rights.

The fund, a brainchild of Mr. Rajapaksa, takes the responsibility as the guarantor, and will contribute 1/3 of the expense of constructing each house.

In response Rajapaksa’s initiative, the Los Angeles Sri Lankan Diaspora collected US $120,000 for the Api Wenuwen Api Ranaviru Housing Project Fund. During the month of February, the Sri Lankan Diaspora in Texas collected another US $ 50,000 within 3 hours during one weekend for the fund. In May the New York Sri Lankan Diaspora also organized a fund raiser.

In connection with the fundraiser, events were organized in Austin,Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Lubbock and San Antonio area homes to disseminate information about the "Api Wenuwen Api" Fund and solicit donations for the housing project.

In July, fundraisers in California and Nevada were organized in houses, about twenty in former and two in Nevada.

Sri Lanka ambassador to the U.S. Jaliya Wickremasuriya told Asian Tribune that in August alone there will be fundraisers in fifty locations throughout the United States. Among other locations they will be held in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Connecticut and New York.

Mr. Wickremasuriya said that the target is to collect US dollars one million for the housing project.

The Api Wenuwen Api Fund is incorporated as an act in Sri Lanka parliament. Its governing body consists of the attorney general, governor of the Central Bank, defense secretary and others.

Since the Eelam War -4 commenced in July 2006 and up to its conclusion on May 18, 2009 with the internal annihilation of the LTTE and its top leadership Sri Lanka has been conscious of striking a delicate balance between safeguarding national security and upholding human rights. The pressure from the Western nations was mainly on the issues of humanitarian welfare and human rights but not so how Sri Lanka was battling a ruthless terror group which held the Sri Lankan nation to ransom, her northern and eastern domiciled minority ethnic Tamil population held hostage by the Tigers and the threat Tamil Tiger outfit had on the nation’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and democracy.

Now it has faced the task of nation building, re-settling the 270,000 Tamil refugees providing them adequate living conditions while lifting the war veterans to a level that they will have a roof over their heads.

Despite criticism from the West, especially from the United States who is unable to help its own war veterans from homelessness, Sri Lanka has rejuvenated herself to exhibit to the international community the true meaning of human rights – restoring rights of the Tamils who were deprived of under Prabhakaran’s LTTE, providing economic opportunities to all ethnic communities and restoring the democratic voice to the north and east.

The Api Wenuwen Api House Project for the armed services personnel is nothing but showing gratitude to them for liberating the nation and restore their right to have a decent living.

Mr. Bruce Fein needs to find a new meaning to ‘Genocide’.

- Asian Tribune -

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