MR. DiLUZIO OF LVMAC SPEAKS OUT ON VETERANS HOMELESSNESS
Mr. Pat DiLuzio, Executive Director of Victory House, the area’s only VA recognized homelessness shelter and the new Homelessness Subcommittee Chairman for our Veterans Affairs Committee, addressed the Council at its 18 January 2012 meeting on the subject of homelessness and the plight of our veterans who are a significant proportion of that problem.
He started off with, “Close your eyes and when you think of a homeless person – what comes to mind or what do you see? Someone sitting on a heating grate; someone with a cup on corner of a busy street asking for food or dollars; children and families; someone in line at a soup kitchen; sadness and sorrow? These were some of the common answers I’ve heard people who were questioned about homelessness in United States.
“Others were asked, why do you think homelessness exists and what are the causes? The responses varied, but the top causes in the eyes of the respondents were: alcohol and drug addictions; family break-ups including abusive behavior/family dysfunctions; and physical and mental disabilities.
“But what is really interesting is that when people thought about what came to mind when they [the public] thought about homelessness, no one mentioned the homeless veteran.”
He pointed out only a few years back the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has estimated that 131,000 veterans were homeless on any given night and approximately twice that many experienced homelessness over the course of a year. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates were higher – on any given night, 200,000 veterans are homeless, and 400,000 veterans would experience homelessness during the course of a year.
However, according to the 2011 supplement to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) released 13 December 2011, 67,495 Veterans were homeless in the United States on a single night in January 2011 — a significant reduction [12%] from last year’s single night count of 76,329. [The HUD-VA initiative for veterans seems to be having an impact, especially since the overall homeless count of 664,414 meant barely any reduction in homelessness since 2008.]
Unfortunately the devil is in the details. Only 57% of them were in a sheltered place and about 11% of all homeless are veterans, a disproportionate representation when one considers the general adult male population most likely to be affected would result in about a 1% figure. Also single veterans are about 50% more likely than non-veterans to have been homeless prior to entering a shelter, meaning their street populations are even more disproportionate.
Paradoxically, veterans are more likely to enter shelter settings from institutional settings; for example, 15% of veterans spend the night in jail or prison, a medical or psychiatric setting or substance abuse treatment center before entering a sheltered setting – compared to only 9% of non–veterans. Worse, 30% of veterans become homeless after being discharged from rehabilitation facilities, prisons, hospitals or psychiatric facilities.
Mr. DiLuzio confirmed that most veterans are over the age of 31 and single males, but the 9% figure for those between the ages of 18 and 30 was disturbing nonetheless. He also pointed out two-thirds have served our country for at least three years and one-third were stationed in a war zone.
He then said, “Think about this: veterans comprise roughly 10% of the population of persons over 18 in the US; however, they comprised 13% of the homeless population in shelters in 2010 and 16% in the Point in Time Survey. What does this mean? Perhaps the larger number of veterans identified in the PIT survey suggests a greater likelihood of chronic homelessness among veterans … AND … about 1.5 million other veterans, meanwhile, are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and living conditions that are overcrowded or substandard housing.
“Veterans are struggling with excessive rent burdens and thus are at increased risk of homelessness. It has been estimated that three times that many veterans are struggling with financial problems like this now according to National Coalition for Homeless. The extreme shortage of affordable housing, poor living wages, lack of access to affordable health care – a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering medical effects (a disability) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) effects and substance abuse disorders — and lack of family and social support networks all compound the problem.
“The latter factor of having a family support system is often overlooked. Generally speaking, if you are a single veteran in poverty, you are at a greater risk of homelessness than our non-veterans living in poverty. However, being part of a family seems to act as preventive against becoming homelessness. This is why family involvement in treatment of veterans is critical in helping our veteran’s populations.”
After discussing the VA’s new Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF), the Grant and Per Diem Program, HUD-VASH vouchers, and various other federal demonstration and work related programs plus HUD’s Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP), since ceased, he began to wrap up with these sobering recent observations:
- “More homeless veterans are accessing shelter services
- “More are between the ages of 18 and 50
- “The young veteran (18-30) is twice as more likely to be homeless than the non-veteran
- “Based upon the preceding three observations and considering the anticipated number of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, he sees increased numbers of these veterans will need help.
- “Even though the VA’s intention is to take care of homeless veterans (VA’s specialized homeless programs served more than 92,000 veterans in 2009, which is highly commendable) this still leaves well over 100,000 more veterans that are homeless who must seek help elsewhere.
- “The lack of affordable housing, a very basic problem.
“What is most effective so far that we may consider and what do our homeless veterans need? Some of the most effective programs are:
- “Community-based, nonprofit, ‘veterans helping veterans’ groups. According to research, these may be more successful in helping homeless veterans transition into stable housing than the VA.
- “Programs that seem to work feature transitional housing with the camaraderie of living in structured, substance-free environments with fellow veterans who are succeeding at bettering themselves and helping other veterans.
- “Also programs that assist veterans with job assessment, training, placement and helping them to sustain employment are important too
- “Community coordinated efforts that provide secure housing, nutrition, basic health care, substance abuse treatment and aftercare, personal development and mental health counseling
“In other words, services which enfold themselves around a culture of veterans helping veterans, such as Victory House, Veterans Sanctuary, and LVMAC’s JOVE and HOCVA initiatives.”
Finally, he offered some ideas on how the Council and the public can help end homelessness:
- Educate yourself and others about the causes and solutions to homelessness. This is a key to helping!
- Donate goods and services to housing organizations and shelters.
- Volunteer your time and ideas to programs in your community that support veterans
- Contact your elected officials about what is being done in your community for homeless veterans.
- Involve others. If you are not already part of an organization, align yourself with a few other people who are interested in attacking this issue.
- … Or you can always make a donation to your local homeless veteran provider.
VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE SEEKS INCREASED BUDGET
Our programs are growing, a reflection of the needs of our military-veterans community. The Veterans Affairs Committee decided in its January meeting to increase its planning budget (commitment budget) for FY 2012 to $45,950, a significant increase over last year’s. Support requirements have increased, particularly in the area of homelessness (our main focus being employment training programs) and mental health (veteran and family).
A NEW SCHOLARSHIP SUBCOMMITTEE CHAIR IS NEEDED
While the Veterans Affairs Committee decided to request the Board raise its scholarship awards total to $6,000 for this coming year, a new chairman is needed to ensure the proper administration and continuance of the program. Phil Hublitz has done yeoman’s work in establishing the program but now needs to move onto other endeavors. It is not fair that one individual be saddled for life with responsibility for a committee, especially considering the size of our membership. The Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman told the Council at its 18 January meeting if one is not found, the program will be suspended and it can blame itself for not providing the requisite support.
If you are interested in being a chairman, please contact Rich Hudzinski at email@example.com. The nomination period is open. The program is well documented and organized and a full committee exists, plus Phil Hubltiz will help bring the new chairman on board. What is lacking currently is the leader.
Dave Newton is looking for members to take and review applications and for one more instructor.
Starting on March 7, the Council will again offer a continuing series of free, weekly, one-hour job skills hunting workshops at a location chosen this time in South Bethlehem. The program will address all the techniques necessary to presenting a veteran’s skills, strengths and experiences to the civilian employers. It will go beyond teaching how to present oneself, preparing a resume, and acing an interview onto developing one of the most important but under-emphasized skills required for finding and securing employment in the modern work world: networking. The instructors and mentors are local businessmen and professionals who are both knowledgeable and experienced in the skills they teach – many of them military veterans also.
About 20% of all veterans 18 to 24 years of age are unemployed and unemployment for those veterans in the Reserves and National Guard has been significantly higher than their compatriots discharged from the Active Duty forces.
While older veterans generally have less unemployment than their non-veteran peers, the same cannot be said for the post-9/11 veteran, the veteran group experiencing the highest unemployment rates. About two-thirds of all veterans of the current war are under the age of 35. Indeed they are 75% more likely to be unemployed than a Vietnam era veteran.
Unemployment is a contributing factor to the impoverishment of over 12% of those veterans ranging in age from 18 to 34, a 100% increase from 2000. In the Lehigh Valley, the Council estimates suggest the possibility of 20-25% of all veterans who have served since 1990 are unemployed. Almost 6,000 valley veterans are unemployed, when Lehigh and Northampton Counties are combined — placing both counties in or near the top quartile for veterans unemployment.
HEALTHCARE in OUR COMMUNITY with the VA (HOCVA)
Eric Johnson updated the Veterans Affairs Committee on the progress of this committee initiative to improve access, quality, and safety in healthcare for veterans through a collaboration of the community medical establishment and the local VA network working in together.
An executive-level meeting between the VA and the major medical establishments in the Lehigh Valley has been scheduled for 20 January at the Allentown VA Clinic. The team assembled includes executives from all the major hospital/healthcare systems in the Valley. Dr. Kloin, Chief of Primary Care Medicine, Allentown Clinic, the de facto Mr. VHA in our area in the absence of the remote Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center, and several key staff members from the hospital will meet with them for a first-time ever meeting between the VA and the local medical community to open a dialogue towards improving care using community resources in partnership with the VA..
The first focus group meeting occurred as recently as 9 November. To be this far along, so soon, with the VA willing to meet, speaks volumes.
The cost of the current wars are on pace to rival Vietnam’s. While Vietnam extracted a far higher death toll — 58,000 compared with 6,300 so far in the war on terror — the number of documented disabilities from recent veterans is approaching the size of that earlier conflict, according to a McClatchy analysis of the Department of Veterans Affairs data. More than 600,000 veterans have filed for VA disability benefits, and more than 700,000 have been treated in the VA’s medical system. The VA is getting about 10,000 new Iraq and Afghanistan claims and patients per month.
The VA healthcare system is becoming overwhelmed, frankly. The VA will need to do more to put words into action in seeking community partners to assist it in meeting the higher demands of these recent veterans in the coming years. Many of the problems cannot be resolved without their doing so. Our timing for this initiative, while ambitious, could not be better.
The Veterans and Families’ Guide to Recovering from PTSD booklet has been published. We are waiting on Dick Moore to complete its distribution. It was revised and updated working with the original author, Stephanie Laite Lanham – the booklet having been used in VA Veterans Centers (of which we have none in the Lehigh Valley). A locally tailored resource guide for various services, including sources of help, treatment and support, was added. Those families who are interested in a copy ought to contact Dick Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org or by contacting the LVMAC office.
After talking with Sen. Browne, a prime sponsor of our legislation, we have reinvigorated our efforts to get this state a proper state-level veterans affairs department and have been having discussions with various key people. The time has come. Chuck Jackson and the chairman wrote a white paper on the current system and what opportunities are being squandered in properly transitioning or caring for our veterans and passed it onto the Governor’s office back in April, at that office’s request. We think it raised his awareness, though not the needed actions as of yet.
With the creation of a new 501(c)(3) called the Pennsylvania Veterans Foundation, by the official in charge of veterans affairs in this state, the Deputy Adjutant General, for the purpose of receiving and distributing corporate and individual voluntary donations to support veterans needing additional assistance and, more importantly, to those organizations which provide needed services to them (Veterans Sanctuary and the Philadelphia Multiservice Center in this regard), it should be coming apparent to the veterans organizations and the public the current system operated by the National Guard and State is insufficient to the task. Otherwise, this man of principle would not be creating a program wholly outside of government to do what he thinks needs doing – we assume properly attending to those who need support and ensuring their successful reintegration into society.
FINALLY! A NEW COUNTY DIRECTOR OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
After a marvelous demonstration of foot dragging in a county sorely in need of service officers, Northampton County has selected, through internal hire, a new County Director of Veterans Affairs, a Mr. Freddie Ramirez. We wish him well as he seeks training to become accredited and hope he leads Northampton County into a fuller understanding of the importance of attending to our returning veterans – beyond forms management.
 USDOL BLS News Release. Employment Situation of Veterans, 11 Mar 2011.
 Report of Senate Joint Economic Committee Chairman’s Staff. Meeting the Needs of Veterans in Today’s Labor Force, 31 May 2011.
 BLS. Demographics of Gulf War-era II veterans, The Editor’s Desk, 5 August 2010. Web.
 Report of Senate Joint Economic Committee Chairman’s Staff. Broken Promise: The Need to Improve Economic Security for Veterans, 11 November 2011.
 Sen. Casey Press Release. Casey Pushes Legislation to Hire Our Heroes – Nearly 100,000 PA Veterans are Out
of Work, 9 November 2011. Web.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, GO TO THE BLOGSITE AND CALENDAR.
As of 18 January 2012