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Helping a veteran: It's about having a home Print
Guest column
Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
Monica Rose Quinones

Last year I heard an amazing Relevant Radio interview given by the president/CEO of Military Outreach USA.

Retired Army Major General James Mukoyama was talking about his inspiration to found an organization to help veterans.

"We bring programs and resources to churches and organizations to create awareness of issues affecting our veterans and then teach how help can be provided at the community level," said Joe Palmer, executive director. If we all do a little, we can accomplish a lot as a community, he said.

Some veterans, for a variety of reasons, had difficulty in transitioning from military service to civilian life. For some, this failure to transition moved them into the shadows of homelessness.

Helping veterans

One of Military Outreach USA's programs, developed in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), focuses on helping veterans who are exiting homelessness.

When a veteran leaves a shelter or transitional housing, many times they do not have the basic items needed to set up their new home.

The Veterans Exiting Homelessness Program helps provide some of the basic move-in essentials that are needed. Some of those essentials included in the kit are items often taken for granted such as a broom, paper towels, a shower curtain, shaving kits, toilet paper, and basic cleaning supplies.

Homeless for six years

Matt Heldman, peer support specialist with the Middleton VA HUD-VASH Program, said, "I was homeless for six years after suffering a breakdown as a result, in part, of being called back for Operation Desert Storm."

Heldman explained that these men and women often turn to drugs or alcohol to mask the pain. They can be trapped in an endless self-defeating pattern on the streets.

Several factors help a homeless vet end their homelessness. "Having a place to live, to call home, is huge. We regard it as the biggest factor," he said.

Starting a better life

After hitting rock-bottom, Matt decided to get his life together and help fellow soldiers overcome the same problems and start a better life.

In his position with the VA Hospital in Madison, he helps coach vets on basic life skills and regaining their belief in themselves.

"It is not uncommon for people to suffer from 'I-know-you-itis,' to look at a homeless vet and make an unfair judgment. Each vet has their story, it is unique, and I want to listen, give them a chance and the encouragement to heal."

Heldman said there are about 130 homeless vets in Dane County. If a veteran qualifies for the HUD-VASH Program, he or she receives a voucher for subsidized housing. When he or she moves into their new home, they often only have a few personal items and the clothes on their backs.

Two programs work together

The Veterans Exiting Homelessness Program is where Heldman's and Palmer's missions meet. They are teaming up to put both of their projects together.

Heldman supports a veteran in finding permanent housing, and then Palmer's program provides the move-in essentials that help with that transition.

As Heldman put it, "Once you get your 'own home,' it gives you a small feeling of responsibility, making you want to stay off and away from the streets and care for the responsibility you have been given."

Heldman says the move-in essentials are a huge boost for vets starting their lives again.

How to get involved

It is a privilege to work with this program helping veterans exiting homelessness. I ask your prayers for our Armed Forces and all veterans who are facing the challenges of living their life after their heroic service.

Please consider hosting an event at your church or school to collect move-in essentials for the veterans exiting homelessness in Dane County.

To arrange for pick-up/transporting of donations to the VA storage facility, other assistance with setting up your drive, or making a financial donation, call the Madison coordinator at 608-712-0417 or 877-734-4424.

Learn more about the Veterans Exiting Homelessness Program at www.militaryoutreachusa.org


Monica Quinones is a sophomore st St. Ambrose Academy in Madison. She and Lauren Hartig, a junior at Middleton High School in Middleton, have teamed up to promote the Veterans Exiting Homelessness Program at their schools and area churches/organizations. Both have relatives who have served or are currently serving in the Armed Forces.