Archive for November, 2012

Soldier On fundraiser aims to help homeless veterans

PLYMOUTH – New Hampshire’s Soldier On project, which is working to find permanent housing for homeless veterans, will kick off its fundraising effort at an event Nov. 29 at the Common Man Inn and Spa.

Soldier On is a nationally recognized nonprofit organization that works with the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies to provide veterans with shelter and support in an environment that offers dignity, integrity and hope.

The organization’s mission is to offer a permanent source of care for veterans that includes immediate and long-term housing with services delivered where they live. The project is designed to assist them in their transition from homelessness to homeownership.

The event will formally mark the beginning of a fundraising effort for Soldier On’s first New Hampshire permanent housing community, said Cathy Bentwood, director of the Bridge House Homeless shelter in Plymouth and a member of the local Soldier On leadership team.

The project has had strong local support from veterans, business leaders and state and federal political leaders, all of whom are committed to providing the kinds of services and assistance that veterans themselves say they need and want, Bentwood said.

The goal is to alleviate the problem of homeless veterans in the North Country and statewide, she said.

The group is planning a veterans’ housing facility in Holderness, though details of the project are still being worked out.

“It’s an honor to be part of Soldier On’s New Hampshire initiative,” Bentwood said. “Soldier On is ahead of the curve in solving this problem.”

Local Soldier On team members have been meeting this fall with potential contributors to the project. Those meetings went well, and there is now a more detailed project plan, which will be shared at the event, she said.

The goal for Phase 1 of the fundraising project is $75,000, which will cover the predevelopment costs.

Common Man owner Alex Ray has offered a 1-to-1 match for the first $25,000 committed.

The event will begin with a reception at 6 p.m. and will feature remarks by Jack Downing, president and CEO of Soldier On, as well as members of the New Hampshire leadership team.

Those wishing to attend or seeking more information may call 536-3720 or email Gifts of all sizes will be accepted.

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Homeless women vets struggle for aid

CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Northampton, Mass. (WWLP)

Women veterans are the fastest growing segment of the military and  they’re also the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.

The Soldier On home in Northampton on the campus of the VA Medical Center is a second chance for the 12 women who live there.

Constance Zamora, an Air Force Veteran, told 22News, “It’s literally saved my life. it’s changed my life.”

The women are all veterans and each ended up homeless after serving their country.

Denise Jefferson, an Air Force Veteran, told 22News, “I went into the service because my father was in the service and my grandfathers and I was keeping up the stuff.”

Jefferson said, “I was literally on the street. When I walked in here I had a paper bag.”

Some were sexually assaulted during their time in the service, many suffer from mental illness and substance abuse.

Dawn Lehouiller, an Army Reserve veteran, said, “I ended up committing crimes to support my drug habit I did some time in jail.”

With few resources for women veterans and an overwhelming stigma towards their issues, it took these women years to  find the help they need.

Katie Doherty with Soldier On’s Women Program said, “Women are not served the way that men are served.”

This inequality something that isn’t lost to the Veterans Administration, but change has come slowly.

Jim Seney, a program manager at the VA of Central and Western Massachusetts, said, “In a real male dominated culture we’ve really come a long way. There’s this misconception that women don’t go to the front lines but they are supplying to front lines so they are right there they are experiencing military trauma that is a misconception that they don’t have, they do and the after effects of that can be just as devastating for women as for men.”

The VA has hired a women’s veteran care coordinator and is pushing for more funding to address the issue.

Soldier On, which is a non profit organization, plans to add 16 more beds to its program for women and open up their units to veterans with children.

Lehouiller said, “I think the stigma with women is that especially in the military is that women are supposed to be responsible not supposed to have problems we’re not supposed to be homeless we’re supposed to be well put together and they don’t realize we’re people too things happen and we need help too.”

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For veterans, a place to find some help

COLONIE — Albany County Executive Dan McCoy rolled out Sunday what he says is the first phase of transforming the former county nursing home campus into a sprawling services and housing center for veterans struggling to adapt to life after combat.

The county and the nonprofit group Soldier On have turned a long vacant two-story office space not far from the Ann Lee Home into the headquarters for the Albany County Veterans Resource Center. While plans to turn the former nursing home just across from Albany International Airport into a housing center for homeless veterans are still far from completion, the offices of the resource center should be open in roughly a month.

The center will help guide veterans of any age to the resources available and also aid those in need of temporary financing for those looking to find a home.

McCoy, himself an Iraq veteran, was joined Sunday outside the new offices by a host of other elected officials, military personnel and a couple hundred veterans.

“We have to service our vets,” McCoy said. “We have to be there for those suffering financially, from (brain injuries), from PTSD, whatever. We want to be a one-stop shop. We want to set an example.”

The project is being funded by Soldier On with the help of grants and donations and will come at no cost to the county. Soldier On has set up similar programs in Massachusetts.

McCoy hopes the Albany branch will eventually be a campus-like setting, with housing and ways for vets to take classes there through SUNY. The project is ambitious and will take time to complete, McCoy says, but he believes the newly opened resource center will immediately aid the more than 18,000 vets in the county, many of whom face emotional and financial issues that are only fully understood by others who have served their country.

McCoy knows this firsthand. When he returned from Iraq, he said he avoided confronting the toll his tour took on him.

“I saw too many burials of my brothers and sisters oversees. I said I would never go to a VFW post,” McCoy said, speaking Sunday to a tent full of generations of veterans in front of the new veterans center. “I just didn’t want to deal with what I had to deal with, because it makes you think about stuff. It’s easier to shut things down and move on … you just do the mission and come back.”

Problems plaguing returning veterans are well documented: depression, post-traumatic stress, self medication with alcohol and drug abuse, problems finding a home and a job. Many returning troops come from families living below or near the poverty line, making them much more susceptible to those roadblocks.

Having a place where vets can speak with someone who understands what they’re going through goes a long way, McCoy said, as many returning troops cannot bring themselves to confide their darkest hours of combat to even their loved ones.

“There is an epidemic of disconnect,” said Col. David Sutherland. The special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who focuses on military and family programs gave a rousing speech at Sunday’s news conference. Places like the veterans resource center are in place, Sutherland said, to help vets “Achieve what they want to achieve: A balance of education, meaningful employment and access to health care. It takes a whole of society approach.”

John Downing, president and CEO of Soldier On, said he wants to help vets of all ages who are suffering now while also keeping those returning from Iraq or Afghanistan from falling into hard times. Of the Vietnam veterans Soldier On has identified in the state, Downing said 90 percent of them try to make a living earning just 30 percent of the state’s median income or less.

Another issue for some vets, Downing said, is that some act criminally when they have trouble adapting to life back home, leading to incarceration.

“Veterans are not a protected class of citizens in our society,” Downing said. “We all want to think that because we appreciate what they do, that they’re special, but they’re not protected.”

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