Gen. Eric Shinseki was famously shunned by the Bush administration for daring to state the true costs of occupying Iraq. As President Obama’s secretary of veterans affairs, he is, thankfully, no less candid about the grinding problems veterans face at home. They lead the nation in depression, suicide, substance abuse and homelessness, according to data that Mr. Shineski is delivering in salvos in his current role.
About one-third of all adult homeless men are veterans, and an average night finds an estimated 131,000 of them from five decades bedding down on streets and in charity sanctuaries. About 3 in 100 of them are back from Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem of homelessness for Vietnam veterans is, shamefully, well known. But the men and women in this growing cohort took just 18 months to find rock bottom, compared with the five years-plus of the previous generation’s veterans.
Shinseki has "pledged $3.2 billion to bolster housing, education, job and medical programs to help troubled veterans before they hit the streets," the paper notes.
It pays to go back and remember the 2008 presidential campaign and a statement -- which should've been entirely uncontroversial -- made by Democratic candidate John Edwards when he dropped out of the race. He brought up homeless vets and Bill O'Reilly decided to attack him on it:
O'REILLY: As for John Edwards, good grief, this guy has no clue.
EDWARDS [video clip]: And tonight, 200,000 men and women who wore our uniform proudly and served this country courageously as veterans will go to sleep under bridges and on grates. We're better than this.
O'REILLY: That was Edwards' concession speech last night. I mean, come on. The only thing sleeping under a bridge is that guy's brain. Ten million illegal alien workers are sending billions of dollars back home, and Edwards is running around saying nobody has any money. Hard to believe.
Later, given the opportunity to retract his "no homeless vets" flat-earth theory, Blowhard Bill dug in:
Bill O'Reilly again baselessly challenged John Edwards' claim that "200,000 men and women who wore our uniform proudly and served this country courageously as veterans will go to sleep under bridges and on grates," telling radio host Ed Schultz, "[W]e're still looking for all the veterans sleeping under the bridges, Ed. So if you find anybody, let us know. ... They may be out there, but there are not many of them out there." Schultz replied: "Well, they're out there, Bill, don't kid yourself." According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, they are, in the approximate numbers Edwards asserted.
At the time, the Dept. of Defense estimated that "about 195,000 veterans (male and female) are homeless on any given night and perhaps twice as many experience homelessness at some point during the course of a year." This number is apparently down, which is obviously good news.
To my knowledge, O'Reilly has never retracted his claim that the number of homeless vets is trivial. What can we learn from this? Depends on how you look at it; either O'Reilly too stupid to check his facts or he's too dishonest to give a damn what those facts are. As is so often the case when talking about conservatives, you have no choice but to assume he's either a liar or an idiot.
If you're planning to watch Bill O'Reilly tonight, do veterans a favor -- don't.