When Seth Grant enlisted in the U.S. Army, he took an oath to defend his fellow Americans. But even though Grant's 15-year career as an Army medic is over, he still feels obligated to live up to that oath. That’s why Grant has been putting in 16-hour days this week running American Legion Post 134’s warming shelter to help get Portland, Ore., residents out of freezing temperatures. On any given night since the shelter opened Jan. 4, it has provided a break for more than 20 locals without a place to stay or without power from record snowfall and temperatures that have barely reached freezing. “We’ve had four deaths from hypothermia in the city in the last week,” said Grant, Post 134's outreach coordinator. “We view ourselves as veterans … who don’t have a uniform anymore, but we all took the same oath to serve our people and to serve our country. Whether this is a domestic enemy, a terrorism threat or a mall shooter, or an earthquake, it’s still a threat to our people. We’re not done serving. “For us to have space where we can allow folks to stay warm, to be comfortable, to be safe, to have a place to bed down and not sleep in a foot and a half of snow, it’s the responsible thing to do. That’s what we’re doing.” Making Post 134 a bigger part of its surrounding community has been part of the strategy post-9/11 veteran Sean Davis brought with him when he was elected post commander in 2014. Davis created poetry nights at the post, tried to come up with events that were more family friendly and created a food pantry. His efforts have boosted membership at the post, but setting up shelter falls into Davis’ plans for increasing the post’s presence in its community. “I believe for The American Legion to thrive we have to open it up to the community,” Davis said. “I believe in the mission that The American Legion was founded on: to give veterans a leadership role in their community and to do good. We’re doing that, and the community recognizes that.” Of course there were steps to be taken in order to make the shelter happen, including getting registered on a resource list and making sure the post had plenty of smoke detectors. But Davis said every agency was very easy to work with – so much so that the fire marshal herself even installed the necessary smoke alarms. “There was such a need out there,” Davis said. “They met us more than halfway.” Post 134 members helped man the center without blinking an eye. “The most inspiring thing, I think, was how the combat veterans just switched on,” Davis said. “They went right back into the mode where they started helping out. They went to continuous ops. None of them are getting paid. They’re just doing it and saving lives. It’s a really awesome thing.” And once word got out of what the post was doing, donations poured in. Homemade soup and other food items ensure no one missed a meal. Clothing and blankets came in to provide more warmth. Hygiene products also were dropped off. And former Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski even stopped by the post and gave his winter coat to a man staying there. Grant said the post has received donations from as far away as the East Coast. So many donations have come in that Post 134 is now rerouting some of those items to other facilities to provide assistance in their efforts. “We have probably shipped out over a ton – that’s not a figure of speech – literally a ton of clothing out to other shelters, as well as to teams that are going out and finding folks that are living on the street and either can’t or don’t want to come in,” Grant said. “I think (the donation total) is a couple different factors. I think a lot of the organizations out there folks are very leery of giving to. They know coming here it’s a direct transfer. They see it when they walk in going to the right place. “And people want a way to reach out. I think inherently, as human beings and as citizens in the community, we say, ‘Oh, that poor guy died in his car. What can I do?’ They have a very tangible answer here.” Grant said community service efforts like opening up the shelter provide veterans like himself with that sense of purpose they had while serving. “You come back to the world, and life here just doesn’t have the importance it had in a combat zone, where what you do directly affects if the guy to the left or right is getting home,” he said. “That kind of purpose, that kind of service is what we’re finding so many guys are thriving on, as well as identifying with guys in the field. “That combination of tribe and purpose, I think it’s saved lives. I think it’s saved veterans’ lives.” Davis said he’d like to see other Legion posts step up and take the role that Post 134 has taken in its community. “It’s making us … more than relevant,” he said. “We’re leading. We’re community leaders again. It’s a great thing for the veterans because they have a purpose and they’re saving lives again in their own community. We’re saving lives. “We didn’t wait for permission. That’s what veterans do. They get things done.” For videos and more photos from Post 134’s shelter, click here. You can also reach Davis on Facebook to find out how your post can set up a similar shelter. By Steve B. Brooks
American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt is looking forward to the return of a longtime tradition to celebrate Medal of Honor recipients at the Veterans Inaugural Ball — A Salute to Heroes. “How often do you get to be in the company of so many inspiring, heroic individuals,” asked Schmidt, the leader of The American Legion, the organization hosting Friday’s ball. “I am looking forward to meeting some of the three dozen or so Medal of Honor recipients who will be attending the event.” The Veterans Inaugural Ball, to be held Jan. 20 in Washington, D.C., is the longest-running veterans inaugural ball. It has been held continuously with each new administration since 1953 when President Dwight Eisenhower first requested it as an opportunity for the new commander-in-chief to address our nation’s heroes. In addition to roughly half of the 76 living Medal of Honor recipients, members of Congress, other elected and appointed government officials, senior military leaders, corporate executives, veterans, celebrities and other guests will be in attendance. The new commander-in-chief and vice president have both been invited to attend. “We are pleased to have the support of so many corporations and individuals,” Schmidt said. “It is heartwarming to know that there is such widespread appreciation for the men and women who wore the uniform and continue to wear it today.” American Airlines is the premier sponsor of the ball and UPS is sponsoring the dinner. Other event sponsors include Boeing Co., Walmart, Moore DM Group, Applied Information Sciences, T Mobile, Farmers Insurance, BAE Systems, Oak Grove Technologies, Samsung and many other supporting sponsors.
SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- U.S. Air Force investigators have determined that post-traumatic stress disorder and the unraveling of a distinguished military career led an airman to fatally shoot his commander last year at a San Antonio base before killing himself, according to Air Force documents. The April shooting at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland prompted a lockdown and officials to abruptly end a nearby military training parade with thousands of spectators. Investigators determined Tech. Sgt. Steven Bellino confronted Lt. Col. William Schroeder before the two struggled and Schroeder was shot multiple times. Both men were veterans of U.S. Special Operations Command. Air Force documents given to the San Antonio Express-News (http://bit.ly/2jC5obt ) by Bellino's family show he participated in an elite pararescue program with Schroeder but did not complete it. Investigators believe Bellino, 41, resented the outcome following a remarkable military career that included repeated tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and time as an Army Ranger and Green Beret. He also had served as an FBI agent and was a CIA contractor before enlisting in the Air Force and attempting to join the elite unit. Friends say Bellino was idealistic and a man of exacting fairness, according to the newspaper. He lived up to the letter of the law and expected it of others, even once accusing a sergeant major of lying in front of a roomful of soldiers. But a series of perceived slights and violations of his sense of honor had accumulated long before he arrived at Lackland. "I do not like this world, and I do not want to be a part of it any longer," Bellino wrote in August 2015, the month he quit the pararescue program and then went home to Ohio and was charged with being absent without leave. "I've searched for many years to find a home consistent with my ethics and such a place does not exist." His comments came in a note that investigators found in a flash drive and they were written about the time his PTSD symptoms appeared to intensify. ---
There are currently about 5,000 transgender Veterans receiving their healthcare from VA. “That is certainly an undercount because not all transgender Veterans want to identify themselves to their provider,” noted Dr. Michael Kauth, co-director of VA’s National LGBT Program (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender). Kauth is also a psychologist at the Houston VA and a professor in the Psychiatry Department at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Transgender people, according to Wikipedia, are people who have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex. Kauth said VA provides gender transition counseling, evaluations for hormone therapy, and evaluations for gender transition surgeries. “VA doesn’t perform those surgeries, and doesn’t pay for them,” he said. “But we’ll be there to help the Veteran out if somethings happens to go wrong after transition surgery. If complications occur following surgery, VA will provide the Veteran with medically necessary care.” And for Veterans who are still in the process of transitioning, there’s counseling. Following Your Path “A VA counselor will talk to the Veteran about their transition goals, and how to achieve them safely,” Kauth said. “Our job is to help the Veteran successfully navigate their gender transition pathway, and to support them.” Making sure transgender Vets get the support and understanding they deserve is the job of Dr. Jillian Shipherd, co-director of VA’s National LGBT Program and a clinical research psychologist at the Boston VA. She said a big part of her job is making sure providers throughout the VA system are properly trained in how to interact with this very special segment of the Veteran community. “We live in a largely gender binary world where we want things to be one way or another. But life is vastly more complex than that.” “As a transgender person you’re accustomed to dealing with all sorts of issues on a daily basis,” she explained. “But when you walk into a VA facility you shouldn’t have to worry about that. So here at VA we need to work extra hard to overcome any fear or anxiety you might be experiencing. We want to make sure that you, as a transgender Vet, are getting the healthcare you need and the respect you have earned.” Shipherd said transgender Veterans, like other minorities, tend to have considerably more stress in their lives than the rest of us. “Veterans are at increased risk for suicide relative to the general population,” she observed, “and transgender Vets are 20 times more likely to attempt suicide than other Veterans. This statistic highlights the level of daily stress some of our transgender Vets are experiencing.” So… Why so Much Stress? “As a transgender Vet one of your biggest battles is discrimination, which can take many forms--some subtle and some not so subtle,” Shipherd explained. “As a transgender Vet you might face discrimination where you work, or you might have trouble finding a job at all. You might face discrimination when you try to rent an apartment or purchase a home, or a car, or even a pair of shoes. You might face discrimination from your own family –your parents, your brothers and sisters, even your own children. That’s a lot of stress.” She continued: “Being transgender can affect every aspect of your life. When you go to the bank to get a loan, you might experience some problems due to a lack of credit history under your new name. When you go to a new dentist for the first time, you might be worried about explaining why you’re on certain medications or hormone therapy.” Dr. Jillian Shipherd Is There a Problem, Officer? And then there’s the dreadful event that tends to generate anxiety in all of us, but especially members of any minority group: getting pulled over by a police officer. “Any encounter you might have with law enforcement can be stressful, or downright scary,” Shipherd said. “Can you imagine being stopped by a police officer late one evening? What are you feeling as the officer gets out of their cruiser and approaches your vehicle? Are you nervous? Are you afraid? What will the officer say when they look at your driver’s license and it says John Doe, only you look like Jane Doe?” Shipherd said the unfortunate reality is that most transgender Veterans live with fear every day of their lives. “Just walking out of your house can provoke anxiety,” she said. “Chances are people on the street may roll their eyes when they see you, or actually snicker or laugh. Some might verbally harass you. And of course, there is the risk of physical violence. It’s not an easy life. This is why we work so hard at VA to make our transgender patients feel welcomed, and respected. We want them to know that when they come to VA they’re coming to a safe place.” To make sure VA is a safe and welcoming place, the Department offers three levels of nation-wide training to help VA healthcare providers get up to speed on how to successfully interact with their transgender patients and how to address their sometimes unique healthcare concerns. (For more info on what kind of LGBT training VA is providing to its personnel, visit http://www.patientcare.va.gov/LGBT/index.asp And Everything In Between Shipherd said this kind of sensitivity training is essential, since even well-meaning VA staff can experience anxiety when interacting with a transgender patient — thus causing the patient to feel anxious. “Sometimes even a well-intentioned healthcare provider can mishandle their encounter with a transgender Vet,” she said. “It’s not that they’re trying to be insensitive or callus; they’re simply not educated in culturally appropriate care. So it’s our job to provide that education, to make sure our healthcare staff and providers are trained in how to communicate and connect with transgender patients.” She added: “We all need to understand that gender is more complicated than what we like to think. Male and female are not the only options. Gender identity exists on a continuum, with male and female being the extreme endpoints. Then you have everything in-between.” To learn more about LGBT services offered at the Boston VA, visit http://www.boston.va.gov/services/Lesbian_Gay_Bisexual_and_Transgender_Veterans.asp To learn more about some of the services VA is providing to transgender Veterans nationwide, visit http://www.patientcare.va.gov/LGBT/index.asp By Tom Cramer
These veterans injured in battle were treated to a different sort of therapy as they took to the sea, and spent the day swimming with dolphins in Florida. More than 30 veterans of the Wounded Warrior Project were invited to the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon Sunday to splash around with the sea creatures. According to the Dolphin Research Center's co-founder and a Vietnam veteran Armando "Mandy" Rodriguez, the experience is meant to help veterans suffering from injuries ranging from missing limbs to PTSD. "Every animal is magic, and they accept you for who you are," Rodriguez said, in an interview with the Florida Keys News Bureau. "That's a big deal for us warriors. Look, every wound is not a physical wound. There are a lot of wounds that can't be seen, and that's where the dolphins come in." U.S. Army Captain Kimberly DeFiori, who suffers from a traumatic brain injury along with PTSD, was one of more than two dozen Wounded Warriors who participated in the event. "I didn't expect the dolphins would be that interactive with people," DeFiori said, according to the Florida Keys News Bureau. "I just thought they were going to be just what they're trained to be, but they're definitely very interactive social creatures." Read: Surfing Dog Makes Waves in Her Community by Empowering Children With Disabilities She explained that the event acted as a way for her and other veterans to "find new ways to enjoy life." The dolphin encounter came after the two-day Soldier Ride, where members of the Wounded Warrior Project cycled along the Florida Keys Overseas Highway, including the Seven Mile Bridge, to raise awareness for injured veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. by Johanna Li
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Veterans health care remains a "high risk" issue threatening the federal budget and quality of care for former service members, auditors say in a forthcoming report. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office will place the Veteran Affairs Department's health system once again on its "high risk" list when it's released next month. Issued every two years, the list identifies troubled federal programs that could cause significant problems due to waste, fraud, mismanagement or structural flaws. The draft report finds that the VA has made only limited progress since a scandal erupted over lengthy wait-times for veterans, Sen. Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, told The Associated Press. In particular, auditors have pointed to the department's slow pace in improving access to medical care as well as a need for better implementation of a "Choice Program," authorized by Congress in 2015 to make it easier for veterans to get private care. Government auditors also have cited continuing budget risks due to rising demand for veterans health care as a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The GAO, which previously found that schedulers were still manipulating wait times, notes in its upcoming report persistent problems with ambiguous VA policies and inadequate oversight. Responding, the VA insisted that it had made steady progress and noted that it is difficult for most agencies to shed the GAO's "high-risk" rating in fewer than four years. Its health system is responsible for 9 million military veterans and includes more than 1,700 medical facilities. "We are meeting regularly with the GAO and are making significant and irrefutable progress," the VA said. "We must stay focused and build on that progress in order to continue to provide veterans the high quality care and services they deserve." The findings highlight the challenges awaiting President-elect Donald Trump, who has pledged an overhaul of VA but hasn't chosen anyone to run the government's second-largest agency. Veterans groups have urged him to move quickly to install a leader who can continue reforms put in place under current VA Secretary Bob McDonald. While problems persist, major veterans organizations have praised McDonald's willingness to work closely with them and believe improvements are generally on the right track. The veterans groups also worry that other possible Trump picks could push for greater privatization of the VA, which they believe would siphon funds from VA medical centers as more services are outsourced to the private sector. They say VA centers are best equipped to handle unique battlefield injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Tester, the Montana senator, also expressed concern. Out of Trump's Cabinet-level positions, only the VA and Agriculture remain unfilled. "Every day he continues to delay his decision, he jeopardizes the seamless transition that is needed to ensure this nation fulfills its commitment to the brave men and women who served," Tester said. Trump met privately Monday with the VA's current undersecretary for health, David Shulkin. Joe Chenelly, national executive director of AMVETS, said his group was advised by a senior transition team adviser that Trump was "favorably inclined" to retain Shulkin, but no decision has been announced. The GAO first listed VA health care as "high risk" in 2015, following the scandal in which as many as 40 veterans died. McDonald, who took the helm in 2014, highlights improvements including the hiring of additional doctors and staff and a new record for completed medical appointments at 5.3 million. The restructuring, nicknamed "MyVA," is designed to provide veterans with a positive customer service experience, regardless of whether they use the department's website, call their local VA office or walk into a clinic. In independent analyses in 2015 and 2016, the AP and GAO separately found little VA progress in reducing waits, with available VA data often misleading. McDonald has acknowledged a slow pace in improving wait times, drawing criticism last year after suggesting that wait times shouldn't really matter in judging VA performance. The department has an annual budget of nearly $167 billon, amid rising costs that have roughly tripled since 2002. Some veterans groups have expressed support for keeping McDonald as secretary, but that would be a shift for Trump, who has blasted the VA as "the most corrupt agency" and "probably the most incompetently run agency." During the campaign, Trump repeatedly pledged to fix the department's woes and said he would "take care of great veterans." His transition team last month signaled that Trump was weighing a "public-private option" in which veterans could get all their medical care in the private sector, with the government paying the bill, a stance that McDonald says should be treated with caution. Amid stiff opposition from veterans groups and Democrats who oppose greater privatization, Trump's selection of a VA secretary has slowed. Among the candidates Trump has considered are Leo Mackay, a Lockheed Martin executive; Pete Hegseth, former head of the conservative Concerned Veterans for America; former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and former Florida Rep. Jeff Miller. Trump was earlier said to favor Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, who favored greater privatization at the VA, but Cosgrove withdrew his name last month. --- BY HOPE YENASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON – Ten Student Veterans of America (SVA) leaders have been selected to join more than 500 members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. when they converge on Capitol Hill, Feb. 26 to March 2, to advocate on behalf of all veterans, service members and their families. The fellowship selections were announced this afternoon at SVA’s 9th National Conference in Anaheim, Calif. “Through our fellowship program, the VFW and SVA seek to work with exemplary student veterans to hone their unique skills as advocates on campus, in the community, and on the national stage,” said VFW National Commander Brian Duffy. “The VFW sees this fellowship as yet another way of supporting our shared mission with SVA to transform today’s scholars into tomorrow’s leaders.” The VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship is a semester-long academic experience that involves research, action, reporting and advocating on behalf of one of four veterans’ policy areas: Success in higher education; transitioning from military to civilian life; succeeding in the civilian workforce; and crafting the future of veterans’ health care. Each selected fellow submitted a policy proposal to address one of these issues through federal legislative action. In 2016, four fellows received academic credit for their experiences – a success that the VFW and SVA seek to build upon with the 2017 fellowship class. "SVA has partnered with the VFW for the past three years to host the annual VFW-SVA Legislative Fellow program. The opportunity provides exceptional student veterans the chance to make their voices heard on Capitol Hill and with other organizations in the veterans' advocacy space. We are fortunate to have a strong partner, the VFW, to offer this program and are grateful for their support empowering tomorrow's leaders," said SVA's President and CEO Jared Lyon, who is also a member of VFW Post 3308 in Tallahassee, Fla. During their visit to Washington, each fellow will be paired with a VFW mentor and accompany their VFW state delegation around Capitol Hill for in-person meetings with their members of Congress. The fellows will also receive briefings from federal officials on ongoing policy initiatives, as well as learn techniques to work with the media when advocating on veterans’ issues. Upon returning home, each of the fellows will also be responsible for executing a community action plan, to include delivering their individual research papers directly to their respective congressional delegations. The 10 selected fellows for 2017 are: Matthew Carbonelli, Army veteran, University of Wisconsin-Madison Samuel Casey, Army veteran, Coastal Carolina University Jayson Hoffman, Army veteran, University of Illinois-Springfield Juwell McClendon, Navy veteran, Radford University Ryan McKibben, Army veteran, Florida State University Lisa Payan, Army veteran, Marylhurst University Krista Schultz, Army veteran, Eastern Washington University Wesley Stiner, Marine Corps veteran, University of Arizona Ryan Taylor, Marine Corps veteran, Florida State University Karthik Venkatraj, Army veteran, University of Colorado The VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship program is one of the latest examples of a collaboration between the two organizations that was formalized in 2013 with a memorandum of understanding. To interview any of the 10 selected fellows, contact Ryan Gallucci from the VFW at email@example.com or Barrett Bogue from SVA at firstname.lastname@example.org. -vfw- ABOUT STUDENT VETERANS OF AMERICA: SVA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit coalition of over 1,000 student veteran organizations on college campuses globally. SVA's mission is to provide military veterans with the resources, support, and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and following graduation. For more information, visit us at www.studentveterans.org or visit our YouTube channel.
Members of the 115th Congress of the United States were sworn into office Jan. 3 and immediately went to work, passing two pieces of legislation related to veterans health care. Matthew Shuman, the newly named director of The American Legion’s Legislative Division, believes that’s only the start for this session of Congress. Shuman, a U.S. Army veteran, shared insight on what he thinks are some of the key issues coming up in the 115th Congress. The American Legion Media Division: What do you feel are two or three of the key issues relating to veterans that will come up during the 115th Congress? Matthew Shuman: There’s a couple that instantly come to mind. One is continuing on the march of modernizing the (Department of Veterans Affairs) appeals process. We had a really large push at the end of the last session. That should relatively be an easy win for the new administration to do some good work over at the VA. That’s going to be something that’s definitely on our radar very early. Another very hot topic for this year in particular is going to be (VA’s Choice Program): whether to let it die, or whether to extend it or whether to make it bigger – as some people … want to do. The Legion’s going to be battling that, of course. And then there’s the reclassification of cannabis for medical research. (read the Legion’s resolution here) Q: Any other issues that might be of interest to the Legion’s membership? A: Concurrent receipt is a huge thing. That’s something we’re really going to hit hard this year. Concurrent receipt has been an issue for a long time, and I think this is the Congress that we’re going to be able to push it through. Q: Veterans issues came up during the presidential campaign. Between that and some of the problems still facing VA, do you feel that there is a lot of attention on veterans issues and is this a good opportunity to bring a lot of these issues to the forefront? A: Jan. 3 was the first day of Congress, and the first bills they voted on were veterans bills. That was great. I think this is going to be a very interesting year for veterans policy. Any opportunity to bring up veteran policy in the mainstream is wonderful. Q: How can the confirmation process for cabinet-level nominations affect the pace at which legislation is passed? A: It will take some attention away (from the legislative process). Fortunately the two committees we do most of our work with are the Veterans Affairs and Armed Services (committees). And the majority of our work is done with Veterans Affairs, and they don’t have much to do (with the confirmation process). Of course there’s the secretary of the VA (confirmation). It’s hard to say right now, without knowing who the VA secretary appointee is, how long it will take. There will be people … who will be confirmed on Day 1. So we could have someone appointed for secretary of the VA who is that easy, or we may get somebody like, for example, (former VA Secretary Eric) Shinseki, who took several days. That could sort of stifle the legislative flow, but I’m not expecting too much (of a delay). Q: How critical is the work of Legion members at the local level to our lobbying efforts? A: One hundred percent of our influence comes from our members, without question. We are a non-profit organization. We don’t give (lawmakers) money. All we have are votes. We’re the largest (veterans organization). These (members) have wives and kids and husbands and dads and moms, so the population of our people grows exponentially. We need our members to call frequently. That’s the No. 1 threat on Capitol Hill. I can say, “Hey, if you don’t help us out, I’m going to have 10,000 veterans call and email your office in the next 24 hours." I don’t want that to happen … but that’s where our influence comes from.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- The Latest on the effort to end homelessness among veterans (all times local): 4:20 p.m. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald says he expects homelessness among veterans to be solved "within a couple of years." He made the comments Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press in which he called on his agency and its partners to house as many veterans as possible in 30 days. He describes President Barack Obama's pledge to end veteran homelessness as an "audacious goal" that has galvanized people. He says it hasn't been met yet because there were more homeless vets than anyone thought. McDonald says that as outreach and data collection improved, officials realized estimates of homeless veterans were low. Federal officials say veteran homelessness has been effectively ended in Virginia, Connecticut and Delaware. About two dozen nonprofits, government officials and homeless veterans in 17 states spoke with the AP about the effectiveness of the effort and challenges they faced. --- 3:30 p.m. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald is calling on his agency and its partners to house as many veterans as possible in 30 days. McDonald told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday that homelessness typically increases after the holidays and that winter is a tough time for the homeless. He describes President Barack Obama's pledge to end veteran homelessness as an "audacious goal" that has galvanized people. He says it hasn't been met yet because there were more homeless vets than anyone thought. McDonald says that as outreach and data collection improved, officials realized estimates of homeless veterans were low. Federal officials say veteran homelessness has been effectively ended in Virginia, Connecticut and Delaware. About two dozen nonprofits, government officials and homeless veterans in 17 states spoke with The Associated Press about the effectiveness of the effort and challenges they faced. --- 10:30 a.m. Pledges by President Barack Obama and a national nonprofit organization to end homelessness among veterans did not meet their goal. Federal officials say homelessness among veterans has been effectively ended in Virginia and Connecticut. But many veterans still sleep on the streets elsewhere in the country. Nonprofits helping the homeless say the lack of available affordable housing is the reason why. But as Obama's term ends, advocates call the push a success because many homeless veterans did get homes, and the ambitious goal created urgency. About two dozen nonprofits, government officials and homeless veterans in 17 states spoke with The Associated Press about the effectiveness of the effort and the challenges they faced.
SACRAMENTO, Calif., /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) recently gave veterans an opportunity to give back for the holiday season. The group of warriors and their families joined Move America Forward to create care packages for service members deployed overseas. Inside the boxes, volunteers packed candy, socks, coffee, cookies, and lip balm, along with journals, bracelets, T-shirts, and other items from WWP. These things make the time away from home just a little easier for troops stationed in far-off destinations. "I know how it feels to receive a package from home – how thankful you are that people you have never met took the time, energy, and money to show support," said National Guard veteran Christina Eggros. Assisting others through program events like this empowers wounded veterans to embody the WWP logo of one warrior carrying another during his or her time of need. "I have been deployed during the holidays and know how important it is that there are people back home taking time to package these things and sending them," said Marine Corps veteran Eric Hogue. "It also lets those deployed know people are thinking about them. For me, doing this is a way to not only pay it forward but also to pay back." The gathering helped bring families together for a cause. "The best feeling for me, as a U.S. Navy veteran participating in this, was to watch my daughter enjoy working on a team project that will have a positive outcome," said Navy veteran Andrea Varner. "I was proud she felt a sense of accomplishment along with being part of a team. This is something our service men and women share with one another during critical missions, and it helps strengthen the bonds between one another when they are away from loved ones." Warriors also had the chance to socialize with other veterans. Isolation is one of the most significant struggles wounded warriors deal with after serving their country. It can be difficult knowing how to overcome that challenge and rekindle bonds similar to those formed in the military. In a WWP survey of the injured warriors it serves, more than half of survey respondents (51.7 percent) talked with fellow Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, or Operation New Dawn veterans to address their mental health issues. The only resource used more frequently was VA Medical Centers (69.1 percent). "WWP events are a way to connect to other warriors and the services available to us," Christina said. "When we transition out of the military, our uniforms never really come off. It is imprinted on our hearts," Andrea said. "The values we obtained from our service never leave. They are our identity, and WWP is a way for us to serve outside of uniform." "WWP helps empower me to work through challenges and live a 'normal' life even with my wounds," Eric said. "It is hard living up to civilian standards while suffering from invisible injuries. No amount of medicine can help with that like WWP does." WWP offers a variety of programs and services that assist injured veterans with mental health, physical health and wellness, career and benefits counseling, and connecting with other warriors and their communities. Generous donors make it possible for wounded warriors to take part in outreach activities and benefit from program resources at no cost to them.