Tomorrow is Veterans Day, a day set aside each year to honor all individuals who’ve honorably served in the U.S. Armed Forces; either in wartime or peacetime. For many of America’s 23 million living veterans it’s a special day where folks in the community honor their service with parades, business discounts and other forms of recognition.
North Carolina is home to nearly 800,000 veterans with about 2,500 of them living in Ashe County. For some vets the day unfortunately isn’t so special and represents just another in their struggle to reintegrate into society. According to the North Carolina-based Veterans Leadership Council-CARES (VLC-CARES), a non-profit corporation founded by veterans for veterans, 9,859 homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless vets contacted them or were referred to them by the Veterans Administration (VA) in FY 2014.
VLC-CARES estimates that 20 percent of all homeless individuals in the state are veterans. But homelessness isn’t these vets’ only challenge. Unemployment rates for veterans in the 18 – 26 age group is much higher than their non-veteran peers. Furthermore, approximately 22 American veterans commit suicide every day, which extrapolates to one a day in North Carolina.
Long a military-friendly state, North Carolina hosts the largest contingent of active duty troops on the East Coast. Still, the state is woefully short of resources to help veterans, many of them combat vets, struggling with the transition back to civilian life. The problem is most acute for homeless veterans. VLC-CARES and the VA estimate there are fewer than 1,000 transitional bed spaces available statewide.
Regrettably the problem is likely much worse than statistics suggest. The VA has reported that fewer than 50 percent of returning veterans register with the department, so it’s hard to know their true status. All indications are that veteran homelessness is continuing to rise at an unacceptable rate.
AS VLC-CARES points out, homelessness and high unemployment rates among our returning combat troops only puts additional pressure on federal, state and local government budgets. Consequently, the organization is fully focused on improving the lives of North Carolina veterans who are experiencing reintegration problems.
As the VLC-CARES website highlights, “In 2010, VLC-CARES began developing a public/private partnership with supporting agencies and resource providers to employ evidence-based, best practices solution sets in a therapeutic residential environment for homeless and at-risk veterans.” These capabilities will reside in a facility known as the Veterans Life Center.
VLC-CARES’ website further explains that the project “enjoys bipartisan support from leaders of the state of North Carolina. In 2011, the NC Council of State approved the lease of eight buildings on the John Umstead Hospital Complex in Butner to VLC-CARES for the purpose of providing emergency and transitional housing for homeless and at-risk veterans and their families. On Memorial Day, 2014, Governor Pat McCrory announced a $4.2 million grant to refurbish the first and largest of the buildings, and the architectural/design process got underway.”
The ambitious project, which is being carried out in two phases, will result in 400 additional bed spaces when complete and will also offer a wide range of therapeutic, educational, life-skills and job placement programs to help transitioning veterans. If you’d like to make a charitable donation and help some of the state’s distressed veterans, please visit VLC-CARES’ website: http://vlcnc-cares.org/.
When you see a veteran tomorrow, please thank him or her for their service since they’ve contributed to helping maintain the freedoms and security we enjoy in this country. But don’t forget those veterans who are also struggling as they need our gratitude and support even more so.
Ken Lynn is a retired USAF colonel. He’s an adjunct online instructor with the USAF Air University.