Massachusetts has launched a new effort to end homelessness among military veterans during the course of the next three years. Officials hailed the announcement as another example of why Massachusetts leads the nation in services to veterans. All those services come with some red tape, which the state is also trying to help veterans cut through .
Veterans looking to file a claim over a health complaint, or trying to find housing, or funds to pay for college often find the process to be somewhat frustrating, according to George Merrill, a service officer with the Disabled American Veterans organization.
Merrill is one of the certified service officers who staff the recently opened Veterans Assistance Center which is located at the state owned Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. He said they try to help veterans get order from the chaos they see in civilian life.
Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz said the assistance center is helping veterans of all ages obtain government benefits their military service entitles them to. It also provides community referrals and interaction with local veteran service agents.
Thomas Belton, the Director of Veterans Services for the city of Springfield, said there is currently an “ overwhelming” number of veterans not receiving services because of caseload backlogs and other problems.
Governor Patrick, in his proposed state budget for next year has requested an 8.8 percent increase for the Department of Veterans Services which is projected to spend $77 million this fiscal year. A spokesman said the additional funding would be directed primarily to job training, women veterans outreach and the veterans’ cemeteries. Officials said existing resources will be used to pay for the new plan to reduce the number of homeless veterans to zero by the end of 2015.
State Representative Aaron Vega, a Democrat, is calling for more outreach to the growing ranks of Hispanic military veterans. He said there needs to be as much attention paid to veterans’ services for them as there was to recruiting Latinos into the military.
Steve Como, a board member at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke said the facility, which was once exclusively for long term care, is branching out.
The Soldiers’ Home has an outpatient dental clinic and a partnership with the with the Alzheimer’s Association to provide early screening.