During the next few years, over a million veterans will return from wars overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to readjusting to civilian life, returning soldiers also face unemployment and homelessness. The Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that there are over 67,000 homeless veterans in the United States. About one third of the homeless population in the U.S. are veterans.
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans cites “an extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income and access to health care” as the main causes. Many vets are also afflicted by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as substance abuse and lack vital support networks and resources.
The Department of Labor recently reported that as of February, the percentage of unemployed veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had dropped significantly from 11.5 percent in 2011 to 7.6 percent in 2012. Department officials say, however, that it is too early to tell if this trend represents significant progress. Additionally, there is still a heavy reliance upon private organizations and non-profit groups to fill the gaps in homelessness and service programs that are not funded by the state.
In New Jersey, where Long March Home estimates there are approximately 6,500 homeless veterans and 142 funded beds, Gov. Christie announced the start-up of Veterans Haven North in March. The state will partner with Freedom House, an organization that has worked to provide individuals with transitional and affordable housing since the mid-80s. The facility will be built in North Jersey and will offer the services that Veterans Haven South in Gloucester County offers:
Vocational counselors are on hand to help the veteran prepare to look for work. After finishing vocational testing, the veteran will complete a program plan with the vocational counselor which will best suit the veteran based on experience, education and available funds for school. All veterans enrolled in Veterans Haven are required to find and maintain full-time employment within six months of enrollment. Determination of employment may be made sooner by their case manager.
On a national level, Congress recently passed a tax credit worth up to $5,600 as an incentive for employers to hire unemployed veterans. It also doubled the tax credit to $9,600 for employers that hire disabled veterans who have been unemployed for at least six months. Federal agencies are partnering with private organizations to hold job fairs.
The Post 9/11 G.I. Bill is available to vets who served on active duty for at least 90 days after September 11, 2001. It offers vets the opportunity to attend college or receive career training in a desired field.
If you are looking for assistance, or are interested in volunteering locally, the Essex County Veterans Bureau is located in East Orange.