Homeless Veterans and Hopeless Presidents

I have been thinking about Donald Trump again. It is hard to avoid in the US. He is ubiquitous. He wants to have a military parade. It will cost millions, but that does not matter. Trump wants it to celebrate his own greatness. He is the President of the greatest military power on earth. Isn’t that worth celebrating? Isn’t that worth spending millions?

This President is the same man who glibly answers a question about whether he will bomb North Korea with a shrug and, “We’ll see.” To Trump it hardly matters that if he bombed North Korea they would likely respond with an atomic bomb on South Korea and that would likely mean that millions of people would die.

I remember last year when my friend Dave and I went to downtown Phoenix to see a college basketball game. As we dined I could not help but notice a homeless couple inhabiting a bench on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. A sign beside them indicated that both of them were veterans. Could this be true? The man was slumped over in his chair–asleep. I think his chair was a wheel chair but it was hard to tell, because it was so loaded with “stuff.” The woman sat on the bench in the small part of it not loaded with her stuff. I suspect that they kept their entire belongings with them.

Both of them looked like they had worn their clothes for a long time. The clothes were heavy winter clothes. This was appropriate for the night, which was bound to be cold. Arizona is a better place than Manitoba to be homeless but it was still not great to be homeless. Both looked like their clothes had not been washed in a long time. At one point the woman tapped the man in the head. She tapped him hard, trying to wake him up. But he did not wake up. He was “out of it.” She picked up a cigarette butt from the ground and smoked it. He did finally wake up but soon fell back asleep. I thought of cats that lived with humans. They had nothing to do, so they sleep for about 22 hours a day. Is this what he did? I had no idea.

I really don’t know what the status of the couple was. It just did not look very good. I know I should not be judgmental, but it is hard to avoid. I felt sorry for them. Their life seemed harsh, cold, and boring.

I had many questions about the couple. Were they really veterans? What did they do there all day? How long did they stay there? Did they have a better life than I imagined? Was someone helping them out? What had a brought them to this position?

I learned that at the time there were 564,708 homeless people in America on average every night. This is according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Many estimate that the real numbers are much higher than that. Nearly half of those are people in families. Homeless families in other words. I heard on the news that many college students are now homeless in the United States. How can that be? The main reason for homelessness is the cost of housing. Many people just can’t afford to rent, let alone, buy a home. The problem is that housing in the United States, like it is in Canada, is expensive. Too expensive for many people.

The number of homeless veterans is surprising. 17% of homeless people in America are veterans. Even more surprising, to me at least, the number of homeless female veterans is on the rise. In 2006 there were 150 homeless female veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. By 2011 that number rose to 1,700 according to the Disabled Veterans National Foundation. In fact female veterans are 2 to 3 times more likely to be homeless than any other group in the American adult population. I found that stunning.

I also learned that veterans as a whole are 50% more likely to become homeless than other Americans due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing. The greatest risk factors for veterans are a lack of social support and isolation after discharge from the armed forces. Veterans have low marriage rates and high divorce rates. At this time 1 in 5 veterans live alone. It is also well known that social networks are vitally important for those who have a crisis or need temporary help. Without such assistance veterans are at high risk of homelessness. Added to that, many veterans suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder that frequently goes undiagnosed.

Nearly half a million veterans are “severely rent burdened and pay more than 50% of their income for rent. More than half of veterans (55%) with severe housing cost burdens have fallen below the poverty line. 43% of veterans receive food stamps. Times are tough for veterans. Times are good for Donald Trump who avoided the draft 5 times.

Lets compare the President of the United States to the homeless veterans I saw today. Or as Leonard Cohen said, “let us compare mythologies.” I am assuming they were veterans as advertised since I have no reason to believe their sign did not tell the truth.

Steve Eder and Dave Phillips wrote an interesting article on Donald Trump’s military “career”. It was not just brief; it was non-existent. This is how they described that “career”,


Back in 1968, at the age of 22, Donald J. Trump seemed the picture of health. He stood 6 feet 2 inches with an athletic build; had played football, tennis and squash; and was taking up golf. His medical history was unblemished, aside from a routine appendectomy when he was 10.

But after he graduated from college in the spring of 1968, making him eligible to be drafted and sent to Vietnam, he received a diagnosis that would change his path: bone spurs in his heels.

The diagnosis resulted in a coveted 1-Y medical deferment that fall, exempting him from military service as the United States was undertaking huge troop deployments to Southeast Asia, inducting about 300,000 men into the military that year.

The deferment was one of five Mr. Trump received during Vietnam. The others were for education. [1]

It is well known that many wealthy people influenced their physicians to give them “favorable” (bad in other words) reports to the Draft Board. We have no proof at all that this is what Trump did. It is just that it would not have been unusual for people in his circumstances to do that. Nothing from his known character, or that of his father, makes this unlikely either.

Eder and Philipps added the following to their story about Mr. Trump,

“Mr. Trump’s public statements about his draft experience sometimes conflict with his Selective Service records, and he is often hazy in recalling details.

In an interview with The New York Times last month, Mr. Trump said the bone spurs had been “temporary” — a “minor” malady that had not had a meaningful impact on him. He said he had visited a doctor who provided him a letter for draft officials, who granted him the medical exemption. He could not remember the doctor’s name.

“I had a doctor that gave me a letter — a very strong letter on the heels,” Mr. Trump said in the interview.

Asked to provide The Times with a copy of the letter, which he had obtained after his fourth student deferment, Mr. Trump said he would have to look for it. A spokeswoman later did not respond to repeated requests for copies of it.

The Selective Service records that remain in the National Archives — many have been discarded — do not specify what medical condition exempted Mr. Trump from military service.” [2]


Such a report does not inspire confidence about Mr. Trump’s military deferments. What is clear from this skimpy record is that everything turned out rather conveniently for Mr. Trump. As the Times reporters said,


Mr. Trump said that he could not recall exactly when he was no longer bothered by the spurs, but that he had not had an operation for the problem. “Over a period of time, it healed up,” he said.

In the 2015 biography “The Truth About Trump,” the author, Michael D’Antonio, described interviewing Mr. Trump, who at one point slipped off a loafer to display a tiny bulge on his heel. And during a news conference last year, Mr. Trump could not recall which heel had been involved, prompting his campaign to release a statement saying it was both.

Mr. Trump, who has hailed his health as “perfection,” said the heel spurs were “not a big problem, but it was enough of a problem.”

“They were spurs,” he said. “You know, it was difficult from the long-term walking standpoint.”

In December, his longtime personal physician, Dr. Harold N. Bornstein, announced that Mr. Trump had “no significant medical problems” over four decades and that, if elected, he “will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Dr. Bornstein made no mention of the bone spurs but did note the appendectomy from Mr. Trump’s childhood.

The medical deferment meant that Mr. Trump, who had just completed the undergraduate real estate program at the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania, could follow his father into the development business, which he was eager to do.” [3]


The reporters also said,

“There is absolutely no evidence anywhere that Trump actually had a medical condition resembling a heel spur, other than the “strong letter” which his doctor wrote.

For many years Trump never mentioned the medical deferment. Instead he credited his deferment to luck. His personal good luck for which he was famous. He was lucky though that is clear–he was born rich.

For many years, Mr. Trump, 70, has also asserted that it was “ultimately” the luck of a high draft lottery number — rather than the medical deferment — that kept him out of the war.

But his Selective Service records, obtained from the National Archives, suggest otherwise. Mr. Trump had been medically exempted for more than a year when the draft lottery began in December 1969, well before he received what he has described as his “phenomenal” draft number.

Because of his medical exemption, his lottery number would have been irrelevant, said Richard Flahavan, a spokesman for the Selective Service System, who has worked for the agency for three decades.

“He was already classified and determined not to be subject to the draft under the conditions in place at the time,” Mr. Flahavan said.

In a 2011 television interview, Mr. Trump described watching the draft lottery as a college student and learning then that he would not be drafted.

“I’ll never forget; that was an amazing period of time in my life,” he said in the interview, on Fox 5 New York. “I was going to the Wharton School of Finance, and I was watching as they did the draft numbers, and I got a very, very high number.”

But Mr. Trump had graduated from Wharton 18 months before the lottery — the first in the United States in 27 years — was held.

The fact that a candidate seeking the presidency received military deferments or otherwise avoided fighting in Vietnam is not unusual. Voters have shown themselves willing to look past such controversies, electing George W. Bush, who served stateside in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam era, and Bill Clinton, who wrote to an Army R.O.T.C. officer in 1969 thanking him for “saving me from the draft.” [4]

Trump’s attitude to veterans is itself deeply troubling. I am surprised it is not more troubling to conservatives who always claim to be such avid supporters of the military. Of course, I am frequently surprised at how little support American veterans get even while political and business leaders wear their claims of supporting “our” vets on their sleeves. Words are cheap; actions not so much. I was dismayed last summer when he made derogatory statements about a real veteran, John McCain, the current Republican senator from Arizona that I met personally in Arizona 4 years ago. Trump said McCain was not a war hero because “I like people who weren’t captured.” Really he prefers people who did not serve at all.

In the 1990s in an interview by Howard Stern Donald Trump said, “Avoiding sexually transmitted diseases while dating “is my personal Vietnam.” [5]

So Mr. Trump avoided the draft. We can’t say that he dodged (illegally evaded) the draft. We might suspect it, but we have to admit we can’t prove it. But the fact is he did avoid the draft and instead went into business with help from his rich Daddy and he did very well. Had he not got the “strong letter” as he called it, from his doctor, he would very likely have been drafted. As Eder and Phillips reported,

“On the day of Mr. Trump’s graduation, 40 Americans were killed in Vietnam. The Pentagon was preparing to call up more troops.

With his schooling behind him, there would have been little to prevent someone in Mr. Trump’s situation from being drafted, if not for the diagnosis of his bone spurs.” [6]

There was also an interesting issue that arose at the Democrats Convention last year. It arose because Trump made disparaging remarks about another genuine veteran and war hero who happened to be Muslim. That veteran’s father, publicly addressed Trump by saying he did not understand the Constitution and had, unlike his son made no sacrifices for his country. Trump’s response was interesting. Trump said,

“I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices,” Mr. Trump said to Mr. Stephanopoulos. “I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.” [7]

The important thing here is that Trump believes this. He believes he has made sacrifices by making a lot of money and creating jobs. Since when is having worked hard a sacrifice, particularly when it is work that was extremely well paid? Since when is having “tremendous success” a sacrifice? Mr. Trump’s views of what constitutes a sacrifice is odd to say the very least one can say.

All that is certain in this history is that Donald Trump the son of a very rich man who was not averse to using his power to his own advantage or that of his family, got 5 very convenient deferments. The two veterans (if they were that, but there are many others who certainly are) were not so fortunate. Many veterans have not been so fortunate.

I could not help but believe that this couple on a public sidewalk in Phoenix represented the sick underbelly of the richest country in the world. America is a place where many people are homeless. Many young people in the US suffer from mental illness before attaining the age of 21 years. At the same time, funds are often not available to help the mentally ill. People in gated communities, like Johnson Ranch where we are living here in Arizona for 3 months (though it is not even gated just ‘wanna be’ gated), pay little attention to people like this. I really paid little attention either I had to admit. People are more concerned about cutting taxes than avoiding the cutting of social services. His current budget also proposes to cut the State Department budget by 30%. The State Department uses much of its money on diplomacy with the object of avoiding wars in which members of the Armed Forces often die or get hurt.

Then what does President Trump now suggest we do for our veterans? Have a costly military parade where the country boasts about its weapons. Is that the best this country can do for its veterans?

All of this is found in the richest country in the world. We have to ask, ‘Is America great?’

[1]Steve Eder and Dave Philipps, “Donald Trump’s Draft Deferments: Four to College, One to Bad Feet,” New York Times (August 1, 2016)

[2] Steve Eder and Dave Philipps, “Donald Trump’s Draft Deferments: Four to College, One to Bad Feet,” New York Times (August 1, 2016)

[3] Steve Eder and Dave Philipps, “Donald Trump’s Draft Deferments: Four to College, One to Bad Feet,” New York Times (August 1, 2016)

[4] Steve Eder and Dave Philipps, “Donald Trump’s Draft Deferments: Four to College, One to Bad Feet,” New York Times (August 1, 2016)

[5] Steve Eder and Dave Philipps, “Donald Trump’s Draft Deferments: Four to College, One to Bad Feet,” New York Times (August 1, 2016)

[6] Steve Eder and Dave Philipps, “Donald Trump’s Draft Deferments: Four to College, One to Bad Feet,” New York Times (August 1, 2016)

[7] Steve Eder and Dave Philipps, “Donald Trump’s Draft Deferments: Four to College, One to Bad Feet,” New York Times (August 1, 2016)

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