The parades and celebratory events are over, the offers for free coffee and donuts have expired.
But although the flags patriotic Americans waved last month on Veterans Day are back in storage, the needs of the men and women we honored that day are not as easily shelved.
When it comes to paying veterans the kind of respect that really matters, our track record is pitiful.
True, we’ve come a long way since returning servicemen and servicewomen met epithets and scorn when they stepped off the plane battered and bruised from their experiences in Vietnam. But even today, too many warriors are being neglected, forced to wait months for medical treatment and left to fend for themselves.
The advocacy group Justice for Vets estimates that one-third of America’s homeless are veterans. On any given night, the organization charges, 67,000 veterans are on the street.
Two days after Veterans Day, a bill to expand health care and educational programs for vets couldn’t muster enough Republican votes to move forward, with 41 of 45 GOP senators voting against the measure.
So we welcome news that Trenton and Mercer County officials have officially accepted First Lady Michelle Obama’s Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness by the end of this year.
“Our commitment to veterans needs to be more than a one-day observance,” said Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson, pledging to reduce the number of homeless veterans in Mercer County – 79 as of the beginning of 2015 – to “functional zero.”
Clinton Geddis puts a face on the plight of these individuals.
The former Marine served two tours in Vietnam from 1968 to 1971, returning home to a life of drinking and crack cocaine and eventually spending two years roaming the streets of Trenton.
City and county offices have joined hands with the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness, veteran groups and nonprofit agencies to give the Clinton Geddises of our area the housing they need and deserve.
Over the past 10 months, through a collaborative screening process and the help of housing providers, officials have placed 64 homeless vets into housing, and vow that the remainder will have a roof over their heads in time to ring in the New Year.
Much credit on this front goes to the recently opened Coordinated Entry and Assessment Services Center on Perry Street, which brings together a dozen agencies to offer one-stop veterans assistance and mental health services under one roof.
Sadly, the challenges homeless vets confront don’t end even when they insert their new keys in the door. If we are to keep our promise, intense follow-up services are crucial to make sure those needs are addressed.