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TIME Magazine Features Soldier On in “Battleland” Blog

Dealing with the nation’s veterans – both those who have served since 9/11, and the older ones who came before – has always been a challenge. That’s what makes the approach being championed by Soldier On in Massachusetts interesting.

It’s a veterans’ outreach nonprofit in the western part of the state that believes that only by letting vets earn a stake in their own home can they begin to climb from the depths many find themselves in after waging the nation’s wars. And it’s growing: the Department of Veterans Affairs gave Soldier On nearly $3 million last month to help fight veteran homelessness in New Jersey and New York.

“The fight doesn’t end when they get home,” declares Jack Downing, Soldier On’s voluble president, reciting his agency’s motto. But the welcome that Soldier On offers addicted, convicted or homeless vets – some are all three – is total. “You can’t fail here,” Downing says. “There are no rules here more important than the person.”

Battleland toured Soldier On’s Gordon Mansfield Veterans Community in Pittsfield, Mass., last week with Downing. The neat community of 39 small apartments, clustered around a central courtyard, is named for a former VA deputy secretary who hails from Pittsfield, and who was severely wounded as a company commander in Vietnam. It’s an approach Downing wants to spread around the country.

“Soldier On’s development and growth in western Massachusetts has developed a model of outreach and services for underserved veterans that is now being recognized as a model for other states,” Downing says. “We look forward to continue the growth and development of this model.” Veterans can gain partial ownership of one of the units for $2,500 down and $580 a month.

At Soldier On, in both the permanent and transitional housing (different buildings for each gender), panels made up of residents – vets – are the ones who set the rules, counsel the vets and encourage, cajole and nag newcomers to shape up. They speak highly of the organization and housing that have given them hope and restored their sense of self-respect; one likens it to “Disneyland.”

Downing – perhaps because he comes from the world of helping the addicted and homeless, rather than the military – isn’t shy about declaring where he believes the system is failing. “We’re trying to challenge the whole VA system,” he says, while noting that more than 85% of his outfit’s funding comes from the VA.

Last month, he called VA Secretary – a former Army general, chief of staff and wounded veteran – Eric Shinseki on the carpet his remarks at the 4th annual Pentagon-VA suicide prevention conference. “Veterans who commit suicide, perhaps as many as two out of three, are not enrolled in the VA health care system,” Shinseki said. “So as good as we think our programs are — we don’t even get a shot at these veterans.”

Downing suggests Shinseki has it backwards. “The model that the veteran needs to find the VA, rather than the VA needs to find veterans, is at the center of what is wrong with the VA today,” Downing said. “We cannot continue letting young people die and say ‘too bad they didn’t come for help.’ It is our duty to seek out the men and women who were willing to die for us.”

To view this story visit: http://nation.time.com/2012/08/03/the-fight-doesnt-end-when-they-get-home/#disqus_thread#ixzz22UMFL6ci

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Soldier On Receives $2.9 Million to Fight Veteran Homelessness

Soldier On, which serves homeless and at-risk veterans with facilities in Leeds and Pittsfield, Mass., today was awarded three grants totaling $2,976,402 by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to continue the fight against veteran homelessness in New York and New Jersey.

Soldier On was awarded two separate grants of $1 million each to serve veterans in four Central New Jersey counties and 18 counties in upstate Central New York. In addition, Soldier On received a $976,402 renewal grant to continue to provide housing services to veterans in 18 counties in upstate Eastern New York.

These awards are among nearly $100 million in Supportive Services for Veteran Family (SSVF) grants targeted to provide housing stability for approximately 42,000 homeless and at-risk veterans and their families nationally. The grants, going to 151 community agencies in 49 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, were announced today by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.

“We are committed to ending veteran homelessness in America,” Secretary Shinseki said. “These grants will help VA and community organizations reach out and prevent at-risk veterans from losing their homes.”

Soldier On, which serves homeless veterans through its programs in Western Massachusetts and Eastern New York, has already served nearly 500 at-risk veterans, spouses and children through a $1 million SSVF grant awarded in 2011 for 18 counties in Eastern New York. Soldier On also received a $300,000 grant June 19 through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program to conduct employment training for veterans in Eastern New York.

The New Jersey grant will serve approximately 400 participant households in the Central New Jersey counties of Burlington, Monmouth, Middlesex and Ocean. Principal cities served in the new Central New York grant include Binghamton, Syracuse, Rochester and Utica, where approximately 400 more households will be served.

“Soldier On’s development and growth in Western Massachusetts has developed a model of outreach and services for underserved veterans that is now being recognized as a model for other states,” Soldier On President and CEO John F. Downing said. “We look forward to continue the growth and development of this model.”

The SSVF funds enable the grantees to provide supportive services for veterans including outreach in the community and with their local V.A., case management services, assistance with obtaining V.A. benefits and other services. This includes help in obtaining health care services, financial planning services, transportation, fiduciary and payee services, legal services and housing counseling. The grant may also provide temporary financial assistance for rent, security and utility deposits, utility fees, moving costs, child care, emergency supplies and transportation.

All SSVF grants go into effect October 1, 2012. After that date, veterans seeking to enroll in the program, or service providers wishing to refer veterans, should call Soldier On at 1-866-406-8449.

For further information regarding the SSVF program, go to www.va.gov/homeless/ssvf.asp.

Soldier On provides safe affordable housing to homeless veterans, including permanent limited-equity ownership units at the Gordon Mansfield Veterans Community in Pittsfield, Mass. The Mansfield Community serves as a national model as Soldier On actively seeks to extend its successful veterans programs to communities throughout the United States.

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Three Soldier On Kitchen Staff Members Complete ServSafe Certification Program

Three Soldier On kitchen staff members recently completed the ServSafe Food Safety Certification program. Arthur Pritchett, John Shinners and Executive Chef Jason Stump join the rest of our kitchen staff members in Pittsfield in being certified in proper sanitation and food serving practices.

Participants in the ServSafe program are taught food sanitation, safety practices for preparing and serving food and the causes and the prevention of foodborne illnesses.

The Soldier On kitchen serves about 70 formerly homeless veterans three meals a day, seven days a week. The knowledge obtained from the ServSafe training and certification will be used by the kitchen staff daily, as they do all of the food ordering, preparation and serving at Soldier On.

“We implement our knowledge to ensure safe, properly cooked food,” said Executive Chef Stump.  “We are also able to identify potential problems, provide corrective action for these potential problems, and prevent problems before they become an issue. We monitor ourselves daily.”

Not only is the certificate useful while working in the Soldier On kitchen, but if staff members ever decide to leave and seek another job in the food service industry, the certification gives them a “leg up” on the competition as food service employers favor candidates with this certification when hiring.

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Help for homeless veterans – "Soldier On" recieves $400K grant

LEEDS, Mass. (WWLP) – There’s some much needed relief for homeless veterans in Western Massachusetts trying to make their way back into the workforce. One non-profit organization in Leeds is helping our heroes get hired. 

Soldier On’s president John Downing says the homeless veteran population is at risk of being permanently unemployed. Downing told 22News close to 60% of homeless veterans are unemployed and more than a quarter of returning vets have no job.

Soldier On helps homeless veterans in western Massachusetts with housing, health care, and employment. On Monday the Department of Labor awarded a $400,000 grant to Soldier On. Downing says the money comes at a critical time.

Click here to read the rest of this story at WWLP.com.

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Help for homeless veterans – “Soldier On” recieves $400K grant

LEEDS, Mass. (WWLP) – There’s some much needed relief for homeless veterans in Western Massachusetts trying to make their way back into the workforce. One non-profit organization in Leeds is helping our heroes get hired. 

Soldier On’s president John Downing says the homeless veteran population is at risk of being permanently unemployed. Downing told 22News close to 60% of homeless veterans are unemployed and more than a quarter of returning vets have no job.

Soldier On helps homeless veterans in western Massachusetts with housing, health care, and employment. On Monday the Department of Labor awarded a $400,000 grant to Soldier On. Downing says the money comes at a critical time.

Click here to read the rest of this story at WWLP.com.

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BRTA setting up call center to connect vets with rides

PITTSFIELD — The Berkshire Regional Transit Authority has received $2 million in federal funding to invest in an existing transportation system and set up a call center to help military veterans and their families take advantage of transportation opportunities.

BRTA Administrator Gary Shepard said the funds will allow the organization to complete its rural Intelligent Transportation System, which helps schedule and dispatch motor vehicles for veterans’ needs.

The funds also will be used to establish a “One Call/One Click Trans portation Center” that will be located on the first floor of the Joseph Scelsi Intermodal Transportation Center on Columbus Avenue. An art gallery connected to Berkshire Community Col lege currently is located in that space.

Click here to read the rest of this story at BerkshireEagle.com.

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Mass. veteran assistance agencies to receive $1.1 million in grants to combat unemployment, homelessness

Both U.S. Senators and three U.S. Representatives from Massachusetts announced this week that the Bay State will receive $1,113,840 million from the U.S. Department of Labor to help homeless veterans get job training and an overall hand up.

The money comes from a combination of grants and will be split among three organizations that work to assist military veterans in need in Western Massachusetts, the central part of the state and in Boston.

According to the office of U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, the grant money will help homeless veterans receive occupational training, job search assistance, placement services and follow-up services aimed at helping them reintegrate into society.

Click here to read the rest of this story at MassLive.com.

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Soldier On Receives $400,000 to Continue Veteran Job Training

LEEDS: Soldier On, an organization committed to ending veteran homelessness with programs in Pittsfield and Leeds, has been awarded two third-year grant renewals by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The organization was granted $200,000 for third-year funding of their Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) and $200,000 for third-year funding of their Incarcerated Veterans Transition Program (IVTP), totaling $400,000. These grants, awarded originally in July of 2010, provide funding for job training for homeless veterans or veterans at risk of becoming homeless throughout Hampshire and Berkshire Counties.

The Department of Labor has awarded 90 grants, totaling $20 million, to provide 11,000 veterans with job training. Grantees will provide the veterans with case management, occupational, classroom and on-the-job training, as well as job search and placement assistance, including follow-up services while coordinating their efforts with various local, state and federal social service providers.

“Americans who have served their country should not find themselves without a home,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “The grants announced today will help these heroes find good jobs and take us one step closer to the goal of ending veteran homelessness altogether.”

The main focus of the HVRP program is to enable homeless veterans to secure a job and re-enter society as productive citizens. Soldier On, since first receiving this grant, has proven that they can effectively assist veterans in the job search and placement process all while providing them with a continuum of care where they live.

“Solider On has a proven track record of success working with community partners to effectively assist homeless veterans,” said Representative John Olver.  “This funding allows Soldier On to continue to provide veterans in Hampshire and Berkshire counties with quality job training and job-placement assistance that will help them succeed in civilian careers.”

“Education, skill development and job readiness skills are major impediments for homeless veterans to re-enter the employment market,” said Soldier On President /CEO Jack Downing. “These grants help us eliminate those barriers and prepare our veterans for long term employment that is productive and financially rewarding.”

Soldier On is an organization that is dedicated to providing formerly homeless veterans with safe, affordable housing with a continuum of care where they live, including treatment and recovery, food, clothing, case management, and job related services.

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THE DOT FUNDS PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN SOLDIER ON AND BERKSHIRE REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY

PITTSFIELD: Soldier On, an organization that has been committed to ending veteran homelessness since 1994 with programs in Leeds, Mass., Pittsfield, Mass. and Eastern New York, is partnering with the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority (BRTA) to increase veteran access to public transportation. Congressman John Olver and Senator Scott Brown announced that the BRTA will receive a $2 million grant and partner with Soldier On in the Veterans Transportation and Community Living Initiative (VTCLI).

The grant, awarded from the U.S. Department of Transportation, will go towards leveraging the implementation of a state-of-the-art Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) to also include veteran transportation services and establish a one call-one click call center within the BRTA Intermodal Transportation Center. The grant will be implemented within 12 months.

“This critical federal funding allows the BRTA to enhance its state-of-the-art rural intelligent transportation system,” said BRTA Administrator Gary Shepard. “BRTA is committed to working with community partners like Soldier On and the Red Cross to raise awareness of transportation options and available services for veterans and their families.”

The VTCLI is an innovative, federally coordinated partnership that will make it easier for veterans and their families to learn about and arrange for locally available transportation services. They will have the ability to quickly and conveniently turn to trusted sources for help accessing transportation and other support services.

“This critical transportation funding is yet another way to honor the veterans who have served our country. Connecting our veterans with transportation to meet their daily needs, get to work or visit  a VA Medical Center makes life a little easier and ensures they have access to the benefits they have earned,” said Senator Scott Brown.

With a lack of cars and licenses, veterans face a number of transportation barriers and challenges in Berkshire County. The rural public transportation system has limited frequency and routes and makes it difficult to access jobs and housing. Soldier On has been called upon to respond to these increasing needs. This funding provides the community with an opportunity to expand and integrate other human service transportation needs into a coordinated transportation plan.

“Approximately 4 in 10 veterans live in rural areas with limited access to affordable public transportation. This funding allows BRTA to enhance their services, thereby providing veterans and their families with convenient access to the transportation they need in order to further their education, reach their place of employment, receive medical treatment, and take advantage of a variety of community services,” said Congressman John Olver.

Currently, Soldier On employs resident staff to maintain and operate transportation planning, housing, and service development. Soldier On provides transportation for their veterans to and from their two facilities in Pittsfield, Mass., their facility in Leeds, Mass., school, work, and appointments and services that are not offered where they live. Soldier On and the BRTA currently collaborate on a training/certification program for the drivers who operate Soldier On’s transportation program. This provides a link between Berkshire County, Hampden County, and Albany, NY.

“We thank Congressman John Olver for his support of the BRTA and its effort to expand its service and commitment to veterans in western Massachusetts. The relationship between Soldier On and the BRTA will be a model that will be used around the country that should allow community based veterans to access services from the VA and other designated agencies more easily,” said John F. Downing, President/CEO, Soldier On.

The Veterans Transportation and Community Living Initiative will not only provide veterans all over Western Mass with more efficient and reliable transportation but also provide more formerly homeless veterans with jobs within Soldier On’s transportation department.

Soldier On is an organization that offers veterans a continuum of care that includes immediate and long-term housing, treatment and recovery for addiction, food, and clothing, as well as medical, counseling and job-related services.

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Berkshire Eagle: Soldier On gets grant to aid in N.Y. training

Friday June 22, 2012

PITTSFIELD — Soldier On has received a $300,000 federal grant to provide employment training for veterans in 18 counties of eastern New York.

Two of those counties, Columbia and Rensselaer, border Berkshire County. A nonprofit, Soldier On provides services to homeless veterans at facilities in Pittsfield and Leeds. The veterans in Pittsfield live at the Gordon Mansfield Veterans Community on West Housatonic Street.

Soldier On’s funding targets employment training for 110 homeless veterans who live in the four counties of Western Massachusetts, said President and CEO John F. Downing. The funding goes into effect July 1.

Downing said the grant funding shows that the U.S. Veteran’s Administration and the Department of Labor realize places such as Soldier On need to be proactive to find veterans who can access their services.

“They realize that we have to go out and find these vets,” Downing said. “We can’t wait for them to come to us. The VA serves 25 to 29 percent of the vets because they wait for them to come.

“These grants put us out there in finding the veterans and giving them the services that we can give,” he said.

Soldier On is one of five veterans organizations from across the state that received a total of $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Labor to provide homeless veterans job training that will help them succeed in civilian careers. Nationally, 64 grants totaling more than $15 million have been awarded to provide 8,600 homeless vets with job training skills.

The funding, awarded through the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, will go toward assisting homeless veterans with reintegration into the work force. Under this program, homeless veterans may receive occupational, classroom and on-the-job training as well as job search and placement assistance, including follow-up services.

Those receiving grants coordinate their efforts with various local, state and federal social service providers to ensure the employment of veterans who are homeless.

“It’s a life-saver for vets who have been struggling in the transition back into civilian life,” said U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass.

For Soldier On, the funding continues a program that began in November, when the nonprofit received a $1 million grant from a program associated with the Department of Veterans Affairs to help at-risk veterans and their families avoid falling into homelessness in those same 18 counties.

So far, that program has housed 154 previously homeless veterans and has served a total of 484 veterans, spouses and children.To reach Tony Dobrowolski:

tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6224.
On Twitter: @tonydobrow

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