In November, President Obama and the his family served Thanksgiving dinner in a D.C. Friendship Place, a shelter in the basement of St. Luke’s Church in NW DC, where many of residents are homelessness U.S veterans.
This year, the shelter has received a $3.1 million grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve its capacity to address veteran homelessness. The facility also operates the Veterans First program, a program designed to assist vets and their families (an estimated 550 households) with housing services.
The White House official report states veteran homelessness has declined 36 percent between 2010 and January 2015, and unsheltered homelessness among veterans decreasing by 50 percent during that same period. Montgomery County, bordering Washington, D.C. To the north and west, took it a step further and says it has effectively ended homelessness for veterans living there.
Montgomery County officials said they had 58 homeless vets and all its government and non profit organizations worked together to tackle the issue, along with help from private citizens. The Montgomery Coalition for the Homeless (MCH) led the effort.
The county doesn’t want to just stop there. They hope to use this new momentum as a springboard to find housing for the chronically homeless and homeless youth between 18 and 24. Of MoCo’s (as its sometimes called) 1 million + residents, an estimated 1,100 are homeless living in the county, a 23.5 % increase from last year, according to a January 2015 survey.
When the Mayor’s Challenge To End Veteran Homelessness, and several other national challenges to curb the problem were established, the county worked to house every homeless vet. The Mayor’s Challenge is comprised of 25 U.S. cities with the largest homeless veterans populations publicly pledging to end veteran homelessness in their communities by the January 2016.
“Reaching functional zero shouldn’t be difficult,” said MoCo resident Travis Conway, “but the real challenge might be keeping things at functional zero.”
Functional zero is a standard of homelessness set by Zero:2016, It means the number of homeless veterans is less than or equal to the average number of those on the streets.
Some people ask if the government has failed its vets, or perhaps the vets themselves may have made some poor decision of their own. There maybe no one clear answer, what does remain is some veterans find themselves in this situation due to a less-than-honorable discharge, simply put, a dishonorable discharge (or “bad paper”). This would include thousands who suffered injuries and anguish in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, standard veterans benefits are off limits. And without access to benefits, and/or a proper support group, the streets sadly become only option. Imagine being a vet with mental health problems or post-traumatic stress disorder and you can’t turn to a Veterans Affairs hospitals or clinics; you can’t go to college because you are no longer eligible for the GI Bill. With no housing, education, or job on the horizon, it can weight in the soul heavily.
Last year, 207,000 men and women left military service and 18,000 were dishonorably discharged or had according to the Department of Defense numbers.
But the question arises, “Were their actions that led to a dishonorable discharge precipitated by being in a battle-related environment?” In essence, did they have PTSD after they joined the military and before their discharge?
Republican congressman Mike Coffman, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, feels several suffered these battle-related problems that affected their behavior.
Now not everyone who receives a dishonorable discharge is treated the same, because there are varying levels of dishonorable discharge exists. According to a recent Washington Post article,
A general discharge is for those whose service was generally satisfactory, but who engaged in minor misconduct or received non-judicial punishment. Recipients are usually eligible for VA medical and dental services, VA home loans and burial in national cemeteries, but can’t receive educational benefits through the GI Bill.
Virtually no post-military benefits are available below that level.
An other-than-honorable discharge is an administrative action for those with behavior problems such as violence or use of illegal drugs. A bad conduct discharge is punishment for a military crime, and dishonorable discharges are for offenses such as murder or desertion. With those discharges, the VA doesn’t consider the former service members veterans for the purposes of VA benefits.
The bottomline is Election 2016 wouldn’t exist without the dedication of those who chose to defend the right for Americans to go to the polls.