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Editorial: Why we have Monday off

The New Hampshire

Published: Monday, November 12, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 16:02

Monday was a gorgeous mid-November day to have off, and many UNH students took advantage of the lack of classes and 60-degree weather. It was a great day for a holiday at the University of No Holidays. But it’s all too easy to forget why we have that day off and who we honor on Veterans Day weekend. Furthermore, some of the most at-need vets could be in trouble as America slowly slides toward the fiscal cliff. 

Veterans make up about 7 percent of the United States population. A veteran could be an aunt or a professor, a store clerk or a classmate. It’s not always readily apparent who is a veteran, but they are in every layer of society, a part of the fabric of America in one way or another. 

Sometimes, however, there are veterans who fall through the cracks in America, left to struggle through mental or physical health issues by themselves. The number of homeless veterans in this country has gone down over the past few years, as President Barack Obama has made it a priority to get those who have served off the streets, but the numbers are still startling. 

In 2011, approximately 67,495 veterans were homeless, 14 percent of the entire homeless population in the United States, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. About 41 percent of those homeless veterans were left unsheltered on any given night in January 2011. 

Those statistics, while staggering, are an improvement from 2009, when more than 75,000 veterans were homeless in the United States. The numbers are expected to improve again this year, as The Associated Press reported that the number of homeless veterans is expected to fall below 60,000 for 2012. 

It is disheartening that any veterans at all are left to homelessness, and that we sometimes give the people who sacrifice so much for the country so little in return. Government programs are in place, however, to continue getting veterans off the street and back on their feet. 

But these programs obviously need funding. Politicians in both parties have agreed that nothing should be held back in supporting veterans over the past few years, as the budget for health care and other services to the homeless has increased from $3.6 billion in 2010 to $5.8 billion for 2013.  Programs have also been changed to more effectively and efficiently identify those who need long-term assistance and those who just need help assimilating back into American society. The increased funding and changes to programs have been behind the decreased homelessness among veterans. 

If lawmakers do not come up with a deal on taxes and spending by Dec. 31, America will go off the “fiscal cliff, meaning some government programs will be cut automatically; the Veteran Affairs budget is exempt from those automatic cuts.  And as legislators attempt to hash out a deal before 2013, anyone who even considers cutting the Veterans Affairs budget will likely be shot down immediately. Tough decisions have to be made in reaching a deal, but veteran support is one thing that should be left off the table. 

A fall off of the fiscal cliff, however, would still significantly hurt veterans in need. It would trigger another recession, meaning the strides made in funding veterans programs would be stalled. It would also mean unemployment would rise again, and veterans unemployment is consistently higher than the overall unemployment rate. Homelessness among veterans would likely increase again, and inevitably, the budget increases made over the past few years would still not be enough to support veterans on the street. 

There are about 2.3 million men and women serving in the military currently, and about 58 percent of those in uniform have been deployed to a war zone at some point since Sept. 11, 2001.  There are plenty of reasons to avoid the fiscal cliff, but making sure that those people have a safety net to return home to is tantamount. 

Veterans deserve more than just a holiday and a pat on the back. Their service merits our unequivocal support. Lawmakers must recognize that as they work their way toward a deal before Dec. 31. 

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