Bill O’Reilly says he can’t find any homeless veterans. After a few hours of calling, I was able to find several hundred. One of them was Fletcher C. Hicklen.
To make FOX ATTACKS! “Non-Existent” Veterans, I had arranged to interview three veterans at U.S. Vets — an organization that provides treatment, transitional housing, and classes to homeless vets — but Fletcher wasn’t one of them. After shooting the interviews, my cameraman, Phil, and I walked around US Vets looking for a few vets who wanted to send a quick message to Bill O’Reilly. I met Fletcher in US Vets’ computer lab, where vets can learn how to use computers and have internet access.
Like most of the vets I met that day, Fletcher had a lot to say. He told me about how proud he was to serve. He told me what an honor it had been to shake the hand of George HW Bush when he came to Honduras aboard Air Force One to thank the troops stationed there. He also told me that vets get a “raw deal” in America and are not given the respect they deserve.
Fletcher also told me that he had spent many a night sleeping under a bridge when he was homeless in Michigan. He slept under a bridge where three men had frozen to death just a few weeks before. Fletcher told me he often went to sleep praying the same thing wouldn’t happen to him.
Sadly, there are tens of thousands of stories like Fletcher’s — and Bill O’Reilly is trying to ignore all of them from his windowless ivory tower. Does it help vets like Fletcher for BOR to tell millions of people that he doesn’t exist and that he doesn’t matter? Does it help America’s hundreds of thousands of vets when BOR tells his viewers that the government has no obligation or ability to help veterans who served their country (which BOR has not) and returned home mentally or physically scarred? Is it helpful for BOR and his viewers to blame homeless vets for their own homelessness?
Places like US Vets and the Fitzgerald House are dedicated to helping people like Fletcher. They know he exists, they know that the US government isn’t doing enough to help those like him, and they’re trying to give him a helping hand — not a hand out — so he can make a safe transition out of homelessness. The staffs at US Vets and Fitzgerald House spend every day helping the homeless vets that BOR wants so desperately to ignore. They spend their days dealing with the institutional problems that BOR wants to blame on the vets. They are picking up the considerable slack left by our government that claims to revere them. BOR wants to claim that addiction and mental illness are the main causes of homelessness among vets, instead of acknowledging that they are the symptoms of a system that does not help servicemen re-integrate back into society and get the services they have earned.
Fletcher is a proud man, and he deserves to be proud. He should not have to beg or wade through miles of red tape to get help — his country should offer it because he deserves it. And despite BOR’s assertions, Americans should be made MORE aware of the problem of homeless vets and what their suffering says about our country.