"We really tried hard to get a GOP speaker"

class=img_thumbleft>For the past few months, Minneapolis resident Guy Gambill has been working to organize a public forum to bring attention to the plight of homeless veterans. The subject is close to Gambill's heart. A veteran himself, Gambill struggled after his discharge from the Army. A few years back, he says, things got so bad that he wound up on the street, homeless and often drunk. He didn't know what sort of help was available. For 16 years, he says, he wasn't even aware that he qualified for free medical care from the VA.

Such stories are not unusual. According to research from the Wilder Foundation, there are about 700 homeless veterans on Minnesota streets, accounting for roughly one quarter of the state's homeless population. Not surprisingly, nearly half suffer from some form of mental illness; many struggle with post traumatic stress disorder--they called it "soldier's heart" in the Civil War days--and are distrustful of those who want to help them.

These days, about 47 percent of the homeless vets on Minnesota streets served in Vietnam. But when the legions of soldiers return from the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, everyone knows those demographics will shift. That's why Gambill is so interested in gathering policy makers and service providers: he wants them to talk strategy so vets aren't failed as pitifully as they were after Vietnam.

Last Saturday morning, Gambill's Forum on Homeless Veterans was held at the Minnesota Veterans Home in south Minneapolis. There was a certain irony in the selection of that particular veterans home, as its four top officials resigned earlier this month after inspections revealed multiple violations in the care of some of the home's most vulnerable residents.

Turnout for the forum was relatively light. There were about a dozen speakers and maybe 100 attendees. Still, Gambill deemed the program a success. After all, a good number of active military people, social workers, psychiatrists and politicians were all in the same room, where they could share perspectives on some seemingly intractable problems.

One group, however, was conspicuous in its absence: elected Republicans. According to Gambill, this was not by design. Invitations were issued to every member of the Minnesota legislature, most of the state's Congressional delegation and scads of other state and local pols.

Overall, just a fraction of these public servants could be bothered to spend their Saturday morning discussing the dreary realities of the homeless vet. In attendance, according to Gambill, were five DFLers (Senator Mark Dayton, State Senator Jane Ranum, Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, and Minneapolis City Council member Paul Zerby) and one Green (Minneapolis City Council member Natalie Johnson-Lee). Of those six, all but Johnson-Lee and McLaughlin delivered prepared remarks.

Commenting on the partisan disparities of the forum participants, Gambill writes: "Again, we really tried hard to get a GOP speaker and, in the end, we were unsuccessful."

What to make of this? Maybe all those yellow ribbons adorning the cars in the Capital parking lots just don't work very well anymore. Or maybe members of the War Party don't care to be reminded of the fate of those left most devastated by their policies.

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