On Veterans Day, the focus is on the challenging needs of Hawaii veterans — mental-health issues and homelessness, among others — and the range of services supporting their return into our society.
By Darryl Vincent
Chief Operating Officer
State Director – Hawaii
When the efforts of World War II veteran Raymond Weeks, “the father of Veterans Day,” resulted in the 1954 congressional proclamation changing “Armistice Day” to “Veterans Day,” the idea of honoring soldiers who died in World War I was transformed into a commemoration of the valiant efforts of all veterans of the armed forces to maintain the peace that our country enjoys.
Increased efforts to assist homeless veterans in Hawaii over the past decade parallel Weeks’ broad vision to commemorate the service of all veterans. The growth of a comprehensive service system that meets the needs of our diverse population of veterans is the product of this struggle.
The growing diversity of veterans demands an array of services that deliver solutions to meet individual needs.
Through the dogged pursuits of U.S.VETS-Hawaii, the Department of Veteran Affairs and the many other human service providers in Hawaii, solutions, not just services, have been delivered to countless homeless veterans, moving them from the streets into permanent housing, reducing by half the number of homeless veterans in our Aloha State over the past 10 years.
In 2003, U.S.VETS opened a transitional back-to-work program at Barbers Point, specifically designed for up to 98 homeless veterans.
Since then, nearly 2,000 veterans have received help with housing, substance abuse, mental illness, employment retention and community reintegration. The success of the program is evidenced by the decreased number of veterans on the streets and in shelters, and by the growing number of veterans living in permanent supportive housing.
In 2008, the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development began a Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) initiative that has since provided over 270 veterans with significant disabilities in Hawaii with Section 8 vouchers for long-term housing supports. Together with other permanent housing projects delivered by community providers, the ranks of formerly homeless veterans who are now housed finally outnumber those who remain homeless. New VA funding to support veteran families at-risk of losing their housing is the centerpiece of efforts to prevent homelessness before it starts.
Mostly recently, the VA has awarded U.S.VETS, in partnership with the YWCA’s Fernhurst Residence, a transitional housing grant that will serve the special needs of the growing number of women veterans who are experiencing homelessness. As the proportion of women in the military has grown over the past two decades, so has the rise in women’s homelessness.
Although men still comprise over 90 percent of the veteran homeless population, the unique needs of women veterans, especially the large proportion that have suffered from sexual violence in the military and in civilian life, is finally getting much-needed attention.
The Department of Labor has also been a key player in funding multiple organizations to provide employment reintegration services for older veterans, recently discharged veterans, women veterans, and those with dependent children. While progress has been made, much work remains to bring solutions to the 400-plus veterans who experience homelessness each day in Hawaii.
Not too many years ago, our country shamefully turned its back on our returning veterans, blaming them for answering the call of duty. Regardless of party affiliation or political philosophy, Americans now take a more enlightened approach to showing respect and gratitude to the sacrifices made by veterans. But for homeless veterans, gratitude and respect go only so far without actions taken to support them in their time of need. For every veteran we allow to live on the streets, we dishonor all their veteran brothers and sisters.
A lesson in the meaning of Armistice-turned-Veterans Day is most appropriate as it invites us not only to honor veterans, but also to celebrate the peace we enjoy as a result of their bravery. So, too, it is incumbent upon us not only to provide assistance, but to ensure that our efforts bring peace to the lives of each and every veteran, and to help them storm victorious in their own personal battles.