November 08, 2015

Hirono says range of aid includes homes, funds

Each Veterans Day, we take the time to express our appreciation to the men, women and families who have so honorably served our nation.

Over 14 years of continuous combat operations have taken a toll on our all-volunteer force and their families. President Barack Obama's recent announcement that 50 U.S. Special Forces will deploy to Syria to support our partners in the region raises questions about the United States' role in the Middle East. We deserve to hear more information on this latest action and I will continue to oppose a prolonged military campaign that puts U.S. combat boots on the ground in Syria.

Every time our country considers military engagement around the world, we must be prepared to keep our promise to these service members by providing them with the care that they need and the benefits that they have earned when they return home as veterans. Too many of our veterans face difficulties adjusting to civilian life. Here in Hawaii, we continue to address the serious issue of veteran homelessness.

Carl is one veteran who struggled to overcome homelessness. His story is one that should not only give us hope but also renew the desire to do all that we can to support our veterans and work to end homelessness in Hawaii.

A U.S. Army veteran, Carl and his partner Priscilla had been in a 30-year relationship. They lived comfortably until four years ago when they were laid off from their jobs. The couple tried to keep up with their expenses - rent, utilities, food and other basic needs. But, it all became too much to handle and they eventually landed on the streets.

Carl found shelter at the U.S. VETS units in Kalaeloa. Priscilla stayed with family. That's when U.S. VETS connected Carl with Catholic Charities Hawaii and discovered he was eligible to receive assistance under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. The program provides funding to non-profit organizations that assist low-income veterans and their families living in temporary units or transitioning to permanent housing.

With this federal assistance, Catholic Charities Hawaii helped Carl and Priscilla find an apartment and provided other services allowing them to get back on their feet and be reunited.

Federal programs such as Supportive Services for Veteran Families are proven to work and allow local organizations like Catholic Charities Hawaii and U.S.VETS to provide much needed services to homeless veterans.

However, federal money is tight, and these programs are constantly at risk of funding cuts.

In fact, funding for this program and six others like it were at risk of expiring at the end of September. To call particular attention to programs to help homeless veterans, I authored legislation extending these federal programs aimed to increase veteran employment and address veteran homelessness. President Obama signed the bill's provisions into law extending these kinds of services that benefited Carl and other veterans in Hawaii and across the country.

We have an obligation to meet the needs of our service members and their families whether during active duty or during the transition to civilian life -- we must honor them and ensure a continuity of care and support. Our veterans have earned these benefits and services, and most importantly our respect, for making such great sacrifices for our country. This Veterans Day, we as a nation must once again renew our promises to those who have served.


By:  Senator Mazie K. Hirono
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser