Thursday, April 26, 2012

More Soldiers Face Homeless Homecomings Due To Economy, PTSD - HealthyState.org

[VIDEO] By Sarah Pusateri -

When Stacie King finished up 10 years of service in the United States Navy, she was assured by her Navy TAP class instructor â€" a class that helps soldiers transition into civilian life and find jobs â€" that she would be a hot commodity for many employers.

“They were just like, ‘everyone wants to hire a veteran,’” recalls King. “Everyone wants to hire a veteran. You’re so marketable!”

King says for her, the exact opposite was true. She applied for dozens of jobs but got no response.

Veterans have difficult time finding jobs once returning from service. (Pusateri / HealthyState.org)

Finally, the single mother of three did manage to land a job at McDonald’s but quickly realized she wasn’t going to be making enough money to support her family. She packed up her children and belongings and moved to Florida to live with her brother’s family. Several months later, she still hadn’t found a job.

“I was on the brink. I was technically considered homeless because I was doubled up with my family, but even at that point, it wasn’t good. It wasn’t a good situation.”

She’s not alone. King’s family is among hundreds in Hillsborough County experiencing the threat of homelessness.

“With the current troop draw downs, we’re seeing an increase in request for services,” says Sara Romeo the Executive Director of Tampa Crossroads. “We have been really overwhelmed by the needs in the community.”

Tampa Crossroads received a federal grant to assist 297 families in three years. But Romeo says, they received 358 referrals in just one year.  She believes there are a variety of reasons for the increased need.

“I can tell you in one of our programs â€" the Athena house â€" which is the female-only transitional housing program, about 95% of the women that come through that program in the past 3 years have been diagnosed with PTSD and trauma.”

An army study found that 20% of soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD â€" something that can make securing a job after returning home â€" much more difficult.

Romeo says, “Between the trauma, disabilities, substance and mental health issues, there is a huge amount of the homeless veterans who have to have those issues addressed as well. And not to mention getting back into employment in a very very tough job market.”

The federal government is apparently very aware of the issues faced by returning veterans and has issued a grant through The Department of Veterans Affairs. The goal is to end veterans’ homelessness by 2015. To support this effort, the VA’s budget request for 2013 includes nearly $1.4 billion. That’s $333 million more than the 2012 funding level.

Romeo says, “It’s called the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Grant. It really does assist veterans who are in crisis, who are about to be evicted or who are already homeless and at risk.”

King was one of those veterans. “They gave me the interview skills; they taught me to write my resume; they helped dress me. They have helped me provide a place for my children to live, and they helped me become self-sustainable again.”

King now has a good job and can support herself and her children. “It was very life saving for us.”

This reporter can be reached at spusateri@wusf.org.

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