For service members transitioning from the military back to civilian life, readjusting can be a daunting task. Finding somewhere to live, somewhere to work, and civilian healthcare is a new experience for those who are used to the military providing these services.
Unfortunately, every year there are veterans who do not fully reintegrate and end up living on the streets. The problem of veteran homelessness in Riverside and San Bernardino counties has become so severe that quarterly summits have been organized to bring together those interested in ending the epidemic.
More than 50 service providers gathered at the U.S. Vets facility on the east side of March Air Reserve Base last month to discuss, and propose solutions to, the issue of homelessness among military veterans. The summit included representatives from the Veterans Administration; county and city service providers; and non-profit and religious organizations.
Valerie Fioretta, the director of the Airmen and Family Readiness Center at March ARB, represented the base at the meeting and attentively sat in the front row for the entire two-hour summit. Not only was Fioretta able to provide relative information to the meeting about her experiences working with today’s service members, she also gained valuable information about programs she can utilize to better assist her airmen.
“I learned about the HUD VASH program,” she said. “I had not heard about that before.”
The HUD VASH program is a partnership between Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program. The housing authority works to find housing for veterans, and the VA provides funding for the housing. More than 100 formerly homeless veterans have already been housed through the program this year in Riverside County alone.
The VA also used to summit to bring up another important topic facing veterans: suicide. Thomas Darko from the VA gave a presentation to the service providers on what to do if one of the veterans they are working with seems suicidal.
“Transport the veteran to a hospital to get attention,” said Darko. “If that is not possible, call 911 and call the police; not so the veteran gets arrested, but so they get the assistance they need.” He emphasized that certain myths about suicide are not true and need to be corrected. For example, the thought that there is nothing that can be done for someone who is suicidal is a myth, he said.
Many veterans are able to get the help they need and eventually overcome their suicidal thoughts.
Homelessness and suicide are issues that veterans from all branches, wars and generations face. As veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to leave the military and enter the veteran population, there are a multitude of agencies and organizations that stand ready to augment the VA in the arena of veteran care.
“I come to these meetings quarterly to network and meet community partners,” said Fioretta.” I want to make sure I know how to best serve our Airmen.”
Fioretta said that the housing issues are something she deals with every month and that the issue of homelessness does not discriminate.
“Male, female, with kids, without kids, it affects everyone,” she said.