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Are we doing enough for our homeless veterans?

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Justin Tang, Jane Song, and Tony Garcia strongly feel that our veterans deserve better. They are working toward postgraduate degree in social work at the University of Southern California (USC). In addition to their studies, they are strong advocates for our veterans, specifically in the realm of homelessness.

Jane has first-hand experience with the military––she is a US Army veteran and has worked with homeless veterans for several years. After her discharge from the military, she became heavily involved with the veteran community and encountered countless instances of homeless veterans. In one telling example, Tony Garcia, related to her how he became aware of a veteran whom he served with on two Iraq deployments who was living homeless in the camp’s barracks for almost three months because he could not afford airfare back to his hometown. Sadly, the homeless veteran was kicked off base by the military police. She notes that this is one of many stories with a similar outcome: homelessness. She thought to herself, I’m lucky, but should any veteran be treated like this? She explained that if her family had not supported her when she was discharged from the military, she would have ended up in a homeless shelter. This was primarily because she was unaware that she could apply for unemployment during her first year after discharge and there was a lag in benefits from her GI Bill. She stresses that this is a crucial period for veterans where preventative measures can be taken to avoid homelessness and frustration with veteran resources. The following material is in Justin and Jane’s own words.

USA Today released an article on April 2, 2014 entitled, “Shootings at Military Bases Over the Past Few Years” that brought awareness to the collection of these incidents. It is still unclear what caused Ivan Lopez’s hostile actions in the most recent shooting at Fort Hood, but his issues should have been explored and addressed much earlier. Service members should be offered and encouraged by their chain of command to seek mental health services. It is important to have adequate mental health services and assessments without stigma and ridicule from one’s leadership.

It is no secret that military personnel face unusual and extraordinary stresses as an outcome from military duty. These stressors may contribute to mental health issues. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common mental health concern for soldiers and Marines. However, PTSD is not the only issue veterans face as others also include: traumatic brain injury, anger management, substance abuse, readjustment into civilian life, money management, racial discrimination, bullying amongst peers, and military sexual trauma.

Granted the existence of mental health issues, veterans still possess valuable life skills they have gained from their military experience. However; many veterans are left in a sink or swim type situation without the navigational tools necessary for a positive transition back to civilian life.

Senate Bill (S.B.) 825: The Homeless Veterans Prevention Act of 2013 is one of the recent efforts to address veteran homelessness and has been projected to have a 17% chance of being enacted. S.B. 825 will be a great benefit for many homeless veterans, because it guarantees an allotment of $150 million for this fiscal year and subsequent years for expanding services for homeless veterans. This is in line with President Obama’s goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015.

Studies show that homeless veterans are at higher risk of infractions with the law. S.B. 825 will provide legal services for homeless veterans, which will assist them in becoming more productive members in the workforce. Los Angeles will be a large beneficiary because, with more than 6,300, it has the highest homeless veteran population in the country.

There has been opposition to S.B. 825 who question its effectiveness. Some veteran agencies oppose this bill because they fear that private legal entities will take advantage of government funds. Another worry is that the bill will not provide sufficient funds to combat veteran homelessness. Although these may be legitimate concerns, S.B. 825 mandates the VA Secretary to assess funding and program effectiveness of private legal entities providing services. Additionally, homeless veterans need funds immediately to survive their daily stresses, and waiting on another bill to improve resources for them will only delay the help they need. The financial support will be the first step toward a change that will benefit many.

In the near future, homelessness will still be an issue for today’s veterans and a more proactive and centralized system will be needed. This system should be mandated for all exiting military members to be psychologically evaluated, directed to veteran resources, educated about VA benefits, and provided information about local non-profit organizations’ services at their local VA medical care system. This can also serve as an opportunity for nonprofits, such as the Volunteers of America, US Vets, and Wounded Warrior Project, to offer their services to veterans who would not otherwise have knowledge of such assistance programs. From this, veterans can gain insight regarding obstacles they may face and how to address them during their reintegration to civilian life. Moreover, they will be given the support system they may be lacking, such as assistance finding jobs or other services that will help them during their transition.

About Justin Tang

Justin Tang was born and raised in Southern California. He received his Bachelors of Arts Degree from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona as major in Sociology. He has worked in the South Los Angeles area for the past two years advocating for those with barriers that limit their employment opportunities. He is currently attending the University of Southern California as a graduate student in the Masters of Social Work program.

About Jane Song

Jane Song is a US Army veteran and has been involved in veteran advocacy work through various community organizations for the past nine years. She received her Bachelors of Arts degree from the University of California, Berkeley as a double major in Social Welfare and English. She is currently a graduate student at the University of Southern California in the Masters of Social Work program with an intended sub-concentration in Military Social Work.

About Tony Garcia

Tony Garcia served in the United States Marine Corps from 2002 through 2006 as a machine gunner for Charlie Company, 1st Marine Division, 1st Regiment, 1st Battalion. He was deployed to Iraq twice (to Umm Qasr and to Southern Baghdad). He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in philosophy at UC Berkeley and is attending graduate school at the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work. He is finishing his first year at USC, and entering the mental health concentration with a sub-concentration in military social work. He is highly interested in veteran issues and plans to work for the VA to assist other veterans in their transition into civilian life.

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