Veterans Day Reminds Us of Some Grassroots Programs to Help Vets

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U.S. servicemen and servicewomen often face conditions when they return from their service that are worse in many respects than during their service. Even though they may have endured life-threatening combat and great discomforts, they were fed and clothed and sheltered (to some extent) by the military establishment. But when they leave the military they often are on their own, and often suffer from mental ilness, homelessness, alcohol/drug abuse, and other woes. Fortunately, there are a number of initiatives started, or supported, by well-meaning people that can help these veterans in their new civilian lives. One example is super-star country-western singer Tim McGraw, who is an ambassador for Operation Homefront, which has a long list of very basic current needs such as housing, utilities, food, and car. If things are so bad that they are barely surviving, it’s little wonder that a survey by the Disabled American Veterans charity released on November 10 found that just 44 percent of veterans report they have received the health, disability, financial and education benefits they were promised and only 18 percent believe disabled veterans have received the benefits they were promised. So they have to scramble to find jobs. But many veterans have found that the natures of the military environment and the commercial one are so different that many of them end up being entrepreneurs by necessity; according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, veterans are 45% more likely to be self-employed than people with no military service. One new nonprofit organization that is trying to help them become entrepreneurs is Patriot Boot Camp, a series of three-day workshops intended to give veterans some basic training to get started. And there are some notable exceptions among big organizations, e.g., Bank of America, which supports the U.S. military through contributions to military-focused charitable organizations, differentiated banking services for military servicemembers (especially through the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)), and a commitment to hiring military veterans.

New Video Reminds Us About Plight of Homeless Veterans

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One of the reasons that military veterans don’t get more help is that they get forgotten. Many of them were low-profile before they entered military service, and even lower-profile after they came home, often with physical injuries or mental trauma. Not surprisingly, the ones with the worst problems are often homeless or otherwise at-risk. And unfortunately, these homeless and at-risk ones get little or no publicity about their plight. Fortunately, Bob Sitzwohl, a volunteer at the Midpen Media Center, has done something to publicize it, by creating a video called “East Bay Stand Down: Forgotten Faces” that is now live on YouTube and playing on PEG channels 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30. And he knows whereof he speaks, as he himself was homeless when he left the Navy in the mid-to-late 1970’s.
(According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Stand Downs are just one part of the efforts to provide services to homeless Veterans. Stand Downs are typically one to three day events providing services to homeless Veterans such as food, shelter, clothing, health screenings, VA and Social Security benefits counseling, and referrals to a variety of other necessary services, such as health care, housing, employment, and substance use treatment. Stand Downs are collaborative events, coordinated between local VAs, other government agencies, and community agencies serving the homeless.)

Menlo Park, CA VA Campus to Construct “Affordable” Housing for Homeless and At-Risk Veterans

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It makes sense to use some land already controlled by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to build apartments for use by veterans. And it seems to be a nice bit of cooperation among the VA, CORE Affordable Housing, and the City of Menlo Park. Housing costs in this area are among the highest in the U.S. The 60 units include studio and one-bedroom apartments, with rent ranging from $574 to $792. These rates would permit people to live close to their work; many people have to commute an hour or more to find rentals at these levels. Presumably homeless people do not have regular jobs, so they need help paying the rent, for which there are several federal programs, such as those from the Department of Veteran Affairs and private programs such as those from Volunteers of America. Truly homeless or at-risk people may also need help finding jobs or getting enough training or education to qualify for those jobs. But that is another story.