The Department of Veterans Affairs Mobile Vet Center was stationed at 1115 N. Spurgeon Thursday where more than 40 veterans and homeless received assistance with benefits, claims, counseling, employment, and other social services. As part of the “I Count” effort, 13 AAFB Airmen volunteered to distribute surveys at various sites to help count the number of homeless persons in Altus.
“The numbers are important for funding and prevention,” explained Lawton Support Service Case Manager Elsie Tissychy. “It enables local and non-profit agencies to have current and accurate information necessary to apply for funding from the Federal government.”
“Today our mission is to bring awareness to the homeless problem, to get a shelter here in Altus, and get funding,” says V.A. Claims and Benefits Representative Tony Brown, who on average sees 25-35 veterans everyday and helps establish benefits and submit claims. “The VA Center out of Muskogee is number one for claims and benefits and submits more claims than anyone in the US,” Brown said. He also helps them set up pensions, find educational resources, housing, and seek counseling. He is certified to argue cases in federal affairs and appeals courts on behalf of veterans, and typically logs 2000 miles each month while travelling to 14 different cities.
“We are getting the number of homeless, whether they are veterans or not, to show the need for a shelter in Jackson,” explained local Veterans Employment Representative, Sherrie Adams, of the Altus Workforce Center. “Not everyone wants to be counted though, so it can be difficult.” Adams informed that there is a lack of awareness of the homeless issue in Altus. “Homelessness can also mean sleeping on someone’s couch. It doesn’t always mean they have to live in the streets. The closest homeless shelters are located in Lawton and Oklahoma City, and often have limitations on how long someone can stay, so some those people are forced to stay with others who are able to help.”
“Bridging the gap” between Veterans and prospective employers, Adams’ mission is to get unemployed vets employed. “Our veterans are highly skilled. They have leadership and teamwork experience, and know how to work under pressure,” says Adams. In an effort to help find jobs and careers, the Department of Labor will pay for 1 year of school for 35-60 year-old veterans in a program called V-RAP, -Veterans Retraining Assistance program, although there are some eligibility requirements. Adams reaches out to employers and advocates for veterans, and helps with resume writing and locating other resources to find employment.
“We can only help if people know we are here to help,” says Adams.
Mobile Vet Unit Outreach Specialist Christopher Thomas provided readjustment counseling to veterans coping with illnesses like PTSD.
There will be Homeless Veterans “Stand Down,” from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., May 17, located at the Centenary United Methodist Church in Lawton, providing medical services, showers, haircuts, meals, employment assistance, drug and alcohol treatment information, and other helpful services.