[box]by Dave Yaccarino • State Representative 87th District[/box]
Last week our communities hosted a variety Veterans Day events—concerts, parades, and community breakfasts were advertised everywhere. Local business offered veterans free meals and schools created lesson plans aimed at teaching our youth what Veterans Day is all about. And this was the right thing to do.
But now that the holiday has passed, are people still thinking about our veterans and the challenges they face? Most likely, the answer is no.
These brave men and women put their lives on the line to keep us safe and in return, they deserve our support and recognition – every day. Currently, there are 330 homeless veterans on record in Connecticut, representing nearly 10% of all homeless adults – that doesn’t account for all of those that are not on record and still homeless. Nationally, nearly 70% of veterans suffer from substance abuse issues and almost half of all veterans suffer from some sort of mental illness, with suicide rates on the rise. I am saddened and frustrated by these statistics. There must be a way for us to do a better job of protecting those who sacrifice so much to protect us.
Thankfully, we have local resources that want to help. Columbus House and Harkness House in New Haven are dedicated to enhancing the lives of individuals struggling with homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health issues. Also, the Chrysalis Center in Hartford has recently announced a new initiative to help homeless veterans and their families. Thanks to a $3 million state grant, the Chrysalis Center will be able to establish supportive residences that will offer assistance to veterans battling substance abuse, mental illness, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Additionally, Governor Malloy has increased the number of Rental Assistance Vouchers that are currently available to our local veterans. The vouchers are available to veterans receiving HUD-Supportive housing, who are ready to leave, but are unable to afford a rental unit on their own.
As fantastic as all of this is, Connecticut veterans are still being short-changed. Money designated by the federal government for veteran care is not going directly to the Department of Veterans Affairs, but is instead being deposited into the state’s General Fund – meaning any state agency is eligible to make a claim on those funds. It is for this reason that many veterans don’t receive proper medical care and many veteran housing locations are in desperate need of repair and updating – this is just unacceptable.
I think we have an obligation to do better.
Our local heroes deserve medical care. They deserve a safe place to live. They deserve the opportunity to make a living and care for their loved ones. They deserve respect and recognition for their sacrifices. We need to ensure that veteran programs are fully funded and that our government continues to reevaluate veterans’ needs in order to expand programs accordingly. Local employers need to actively seek out veterans and the specific, unique skillsets they have to offer.
I hope that we can all make a conscious effort to keep our veterans and their very specific needs in the forefront of our minds each and every day – not solely on November 11th. Let’s come together to ensure that the transition to civilian life is as seamless and successful as possible.