As perceived threat of terror diminishes, veterans face increasing hardships
The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News/MCT
For many Americans, the fear and uncertainty that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are in the past.
But that’s not the case for many military veterans who have recently returned from deployment in Afghanistan – a war spawned by the 9/11 tragedy. As they return home after multiple deployments, a growing number of veterans face problems, according to USA Cares, a nonprofit veteran assistance organization based in Radcliff.
“They will be (affected) for a long time to come,” said Loni White, director communications for USA Cares. “These individuals are coming back now, and they need help. It’s that simple.”
USA Cares, which helps veterans who struggle financially, is experiencing an increasing number of assistance calls. In the past month, the average number of veterans seeking help has increased from 150 to 250 a week.
By the end of 2012, the organization anticipates about 10,000 calls – its average is 7,000.
That increase is because of a few factors. One is a weak economy – veterans are returning home to a short supply of jobs, said Jennifer Robinson, vice president of programs and services for USA Cares.
“I know unemployment is coming down, but for veterans it’s not coming down as quickly as we’d like,” she said.
Additionally, many veterans are unfamiliar with the civilian job market – which is completely different from military work – and are unprepared for job searches and interviews. Some have never written a résumé or interviewed for a civilian job.
Robinson remembers talking to one veteran who, after retiring from the Army, was nervous because he was about to go into his first job interview. He was around 45, Robinson said.
The military offers services to help prepare soldiers for civilian jobs, but many do not take advantage of such services, Robinson said. About two years ago, USA Cares started a program to help veterans transition into the civilian workforce.
“We see a lot of guys who say, ‘I don’t even know how to begin to write a résumé,’ ” Robinson said. “You might have all the skills in the world, but if you don’t have it right on a piece of paper, you have a really hard time competing.”
And that competition is getting tougher. As soldiers are pulled from Iraq and Afghanistan – and some branches are discharging members because there simply is no room for them – more veterans are competing for fewer civilian jobs.
“We’re seeing a lot of reduction in forces,” Robinson said, adding that about 50,000 military men and women are retiring or being discharged each year.
“Add that number to 100,000-plus a year (who are returning from deployment), and that starts to make it a more dire situation,” she said.
Additionally, veterans who are returning from duty encounter a backlog in benefits, which range from disability money to medical care. In some cases, veterans wait years for benefits, local veterans said.
“They get tired and aggravated with the wait, the not knowing,” said Kim Bouchey, a Navy veteran and chairwoman of the Military Liaison Board for the city of Bowling Green.
It’s especially difficult for veterans who are quickly discharged for medical reasons, but must wait a long time to receive any compensation.
Robinson recalls talking with a veteran who was medically discharged more quickly than he anticipated. He went from being employed by the Army to being homeless, she said.
Since 2005, USA Cares has kept about 2,250 military children from being homeless. It has helped save 50 military families from eviction or foreclosure, according to the organization.
“We’re not just talking about individuals, we’re talking about families,” White said.
Many veterans do not want to request help. “They are the ones who give the help. They’re the ones used to fighting for all of us,” White said. But, many begin calling USA Cares when they cannot afford food for their children, she said.
The second biggest request the organization receives is food and fuel assistance. The next is help with utilities and car payments, the organization said.
As it works to assist an increasing number of veterans in need, USA Cares also deals with a weak economy. Donations – which completely fund the organization – are down 20 percent from last year, White said.
More nonprofit organizations are competing for less money from businesses and individuals. Meanwhile, the need for services is spiking, Robinson said.
Still, the organization has strong ties with companies and individual donors and is committed to its mission, which, in some ways, is just beginning, White said.
The organization was formed about 10 years ago after the Sept. 11 attacks. More than a decade later, many veterans are just now returning from the wars that were triggered by Sept. 11 events and are reaching out for help from organizations like USA Cares.
“It’s going to get worse next year,” White said about the number of veterans who need financial assistance. “This is an urgent time because these folks are coming back to a desperate situation.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services