Homeless Veterans

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

It’s easy to support active duty personnel, but what fate awaits our veterans when they return home from combat overseas? Stuart Collick was a decorated war veteran with a distinguished 15-year career in the Army, including service in the Gulf War. Like 225,000 other homeless veterans, Collick spent some time sleeping on the streets. He eventually overcame homelessness with the support of VA programs, including a six-month stint at the VA Domiciliary Program in Lyons, N.J. Collick is now employed as a foreman for the VA’s Veterans’ Construction Team. He serves as a role model for other veterans recovering from similar problems.

Collick’s personal testimony before a recent House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing chaired by Congressman Chris Smith helped galvanize support for Smith’s legislation — the “Stuart Collick-Heather French Henry Homeless Veterans Assistance Act.”

The House approved the $1 billion effort by the federal government to end chronic homelessness among veterans.

“Far too many of America’s former soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines now find themselves destitute and homeless,” said Smith, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Herndon. “Brave and honorable soldiers, like Stuart Collick, and all those now being deployed in this war on terrorism, may one day need our support. We have a sacred obligation to care for them, not just while they serve our nation, but after they have returned to civilian life as well.”

On any given night, an estimated 225,000 homeless veterans sleep on the streets, often the victims of drug abuse or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), said Smith. “Our legislation not only offers immediate help to these men and women through Section 8 housing vouchers and additional domiciliaries, it also seeks to address the root causes of homelessness by reaching out to veterans before they begin the downward spiral that often lands them on the streets.”

As approved by the House, Smith’s legislation will:

• Establish as a national goal the elimination of chronic homelessness among veterans within 10 years. Authorize 2,000 additional HUD Section 8 low-income housing vouchers over four years for homeless veterans in need of permanent housing who are enrolled in VA health care, with priority given to veterans under care for mental illness or substance use disorders.

• Authorize $10 million over two years for 10 new Domiciliary for Homeless Veterans programs. Consolidate and improve provisions of existing law relating to homeless veterans, including authorizing $285 million over four years for the Homeless Grant and Per Diem Program.

• Require VA to have a mental health capability wherever it delivers primary care and earmark $10 million over three years for medical care for homeless veterans with special needs, including older veterans, women, substance abusers and those with PTSD.

On a similar front, the 14th annual Fannie Mae “Help the Homeless” Walkathon will be held on the National Mall Saturday, Nov. 17. Several local Catholic groups — including Catholic Charities, Borromeo Housing, Good Shepherd Housing and Catholics for Housing — are assisting with this worthwhile effort.

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