PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- On this Veterans Day, America is honoring our heroes.
But there are thousands of U.S. Military veterans who don't feel honored. Instead, they feel alone and forgotten.
"They're coming home broken, lost and don't know who to turn to," said Rob Hamilton, executive director of Veterans Place.
Across America, scores of U.S. Military veterans now find themselves homeless. Many of them are stuck in a dark space between where they were, where they are, and where they want to be.
Hamilton explained, "There's a gap in what you did in the military and what happens in the private sector. And that's one of the biggest things we do here at Veterans Place. We try to decrease that gap."
Pittsburgh-based Veterans Place is an organization with a mission to empower veterans experiencing homelessness to get off the street, get help and get on with the rest of their lives.
Hamilton knows the struggle first-hand. After serving overseas, he came home only to find he'd lost himself and wound up living on the streets.
"There were times where I lived in tents under bridges. It just was kind of like I had no hope, no future," said Hamilton.
Eventually, he found his way back. And with his family's help, he found a new mission to help other vets.
In the past decade, his group and others like it nationwide have helped to start to turn the tide. But make no mistake, this fight is far from over.
Hamilton said, "In 2009 to 2010, there were about 75,000 homeless veterans in the United States. And there are about 39,000 right now on any given night."
But Hamilton cautions we could start to see those numbers go up again with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now over.
As for why veterans end up on the street, he said there are hundreds of reasons. At the top of the list?
"A lack of affordable housing is the biggest thing we're dealing with," Hamilton said.
Veterans Place offers vets experiencing homelessness transitional housing with the goal of finding permanent housing and getting sustainable income. That's the tangible stuff.
But the organization helps vets confront and work through the stuff none of us can see, the stuff that's invisible to everyone else but can dominate a vet's mind.
Hamilton said, "I relate everything back to trauma. When you're in the military, you are going to go through trauma."
And compounding that for many vets is that even though they leave the war zone, the warrior ethos of "Don't whine, adapt and overcome" stays.
"The military teaches you to defend your country. You get that hard exterior of 'No one can help me,'" Hamilton added.
Which is why many end up looking for so-called "help" of their own in drugs, alcohol, or both, and sometimes suicide.
Hamilton said caring for America's veterans experiencing homelessness as a whole can be done, but it must start one veteran at a time. All it takes is for someone to reach out.
"If I know you are not OK, I have a personal obligation to check on you and say, 'I see you are struggling, how can I help you?'" said Hamilton.
On this Veterans Day, take time to remember all of America's veterans, especially the forgotten ones, and ask how you can help.
Find more information on Veterans Place here.
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