Monday, August 13, 2007

Returning veterans ending up on streets

Returning veterans ending up on streets
Many Iraq, Afghanistan GIs already homeless, suffering
mcclatchy newspapers
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 08.13.2007

ORLANDO, Fla. — Often, when Ryan Svolto manages to sleep, he finds himself back in Iraq, preparing for triage, awash in blood and bodies. But he can't find his medical kit, and, helpless, he thrashes awake, damp with sweat.

As an infantry medic, he patched up soldiers wounded in combat in Iraq. Now, Svolto, 24, is trying to fix his own wounded life after a recent stint at a Daytona Beach, Fla., homeless shelter.

Svolto is one of a growing number of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who joined the ranks of the homeless after returning home. Experts say a system already buckling under one of the nation's largest homeless populations might collapse under the weight of a new wave of veterans, many saddled with mental-health issues and crippling brain injuries.

For Svolto, it's yet another battle — one he believes he won't be fighting alone.
"That's the scary part, when they get out of the Army and realize they're not who they used to be," he said. "It seems easier to disappear in the woods and live that way. A lot of these kids aren't going to be prepared. I wasn't prepared."

Nearly half of all homeless veterans served in Vietnam. Hamstrung by a lack of job skills, drug addictions and psychological issues, they became homeless 12 to 15 years after discharge.

But veterans of the latest war are hitting the streets much sooner.

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