Olbermann slams O'Reilly for downplaying homeless veterans
David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Thursday January 17, 2008

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The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that about 195,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. But this official statistic is not good enough for Fox pundit Bill O'Reilly, who recently mocked presidential candidate John Edwards for making it an issue in his campaign.

When O'Reilly's guest, radio host Ed Schultz, said of Edwards that "he's got tremendous conviction," O'Reilly replied jovially, "We're still looking for all the veterans sleeping under the bridges, Ed. So if you find anybody, let us know. ... If you know where one is ... you call me immediately and we will make sure that man does not do it."

Keith Olbermann asked Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to comment on O'Reilly's remarks, saying, "Well, we know what we want to say here, and it involves suggesting Mr. O'Reilly should go and do something anatomically impossible to himself with that attitude." However Rieckhoff appeared far more interested in reaching out for support on the issue, even to Bill O'Reilly, than in offering crude insults.

Rieckhoff emphasized there are at least 1,500 homeless veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars alone and that his organization is in touch with them every day. "All you have to do," he stated, "to be honest with you, if you're Bill O'Reilly, is go downstairs and look out in the streets of New York."

"You have to deliberately try to avoid seeing this problem," Olbermann agreed. "Is that what he's doing?"

"I don't know what his agenda is here, but we hope that he uses it as an opportunity to focus on a very critical issue," Rieckhoff replied. "We need everybody's help, and we need folks to support our veterans. This isn't a partisan issue. It's not about John Edwards. It's about taking care of the people when they come home."

Rieckhoff cited mental health issues, financial difficulties, and the lack of low-cost housing as contributing to the homelessness problem. "This is an after-effect of the war that's predictable," he said, "and we need the entire country to rally behind. And I hope Bill O'Reilly will join our outreach folks in a van that goes out to Skid Row just about every day."

Rieckhoff indicated that the cost of housing and supporting one vet for a year is about $15,000, which means we could take care of every homeless vet for "$2.6 billion, which is a drop in the bucket compared to what we're spending in Iraq every day."

"Okay, Billy, put your money where your mouth is," Olbermann concluded. "House every homeless vet tonight, just tonight. That'll be about $6,435,000."

IAVA.org has issued an open letter to Bill O'Reilly urging him to set the record straight on homeless vets.

This video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast January 17, 2008.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story quoted Paul Rieckhoff as saying there were 15,000 homeless veterans when in fact he said 1,500. The story has been corrected. Raw Story regrets the error.