American veterans who have served in every war since WWII comprise approximately 11 percent of America’s total homeless population. And many more are at risk for homelessness. While housing is vital, employment and mental health services for our nation’s at-risk veterans can help prevent homelessness.
A discussion with Stephen Peck, President and CEO of U.S. Vets
Lisnek: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that 40,056 veterans are homeless on any given night and, therefore, not getting access to the medical and mental health services they may very well need. Well, hi. Welcome to to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Paul Lisnek. Joining me to discuss housing and essential services for our nation´s at-risk veterans is Stephen Peck. He´s the president and C.E.O. of U.S. Vets. Steve, thank you for joining me here.
Peck: Thank you for having me.
Lisnek: I can´t have you here and not mention that last name of yours, Peck, it´s so well-known. You indeed are the son of the amazing actor Gregory Peck -- "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Twelve O´Clock High," where he played a general. I´m wondering, did that influence your desire to work with military?
Peck: It didn´t. Actually, my experience in Vietnam, as a Marine in Vietnam, in ´69 and ´70, really was the beginning of my interest in veterans, and I came back from there, and I just thought I would leave all that behind me, but those memories stick with you, and when I learned that about 30% of the homeless men at that time were veterans, I thought, "Well, maybe there´s something I can do about this."
Lisnek: And there is something that you are doing about it, and the statistic I gave up front, kind of stunning when you think of that many people being homeless. This actually goes back -- World War II, Korean War. To this day there are veterans of those wars that are homeless.
Peck: We still have a few World War II vets in our housing. We have 11 different sites across the country. Over 3,000 veterans are housed every single night. There are Korean War vets, but mostly Vietnam vets and then younger. About 10% of our vets now are post-9/11.
Lisnek: The concern, of course, is that some of these folks may not be getting the help that they need because homelessness is a critical part of the problem, but if you don´t reach them and they´re homeless, you can´t get them the other kind of mental health and other services you need.
Peck: That is true. We really spend a lot of time doing outreach. We obviously cooperate with the VA medical centers across the country, and our job is to get guys in the door so that we can begin to give them the wraparound services that we can provide, the case management, the mental health, employment assistance. We reunite them with families. We really try to do everything we can to reintegrate them fully into society.
Lisnek: Is it a fair enough statement to say that when you think of funding, government funding and lots of funding, it all seems to focus on housing, and it doesn´t really get transferred in terms of concern to these other health issues?
Peck: It is true. Housing has become the one thing that people think that they can do to solve the homeless problem, right? They´re homeless? Give them a home, and we´re good. A lot of things happen along the way. You know, there´s lost jobs, lost families, there´s mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and you put them in housing, all those issues come with them, so you really have to provide the case management, the psychological counseling, the employment assistance to get them back -- get them whole again.
Lisnek: It seems that, today, there´s a greater sensitivity among Americans to honor the service -- and I thank you for the service you´ve given to the country.
Lisnek: And yet with that, the problem continues. What is it that´s missing, whether it´s societal or otherwise, that bring these vets home and leads to these issues? How do they find themselves in that situation for which they need help?
Peck: Vets suffer from the same issues that other people suffer. They´re about 10% of the population, so which means we have about 400,000 homeless people in the country, and sometimes you add on to that the post-traumatic stress, for women, it´s military sexual trauma, but most of the issues are similar to others. They fall off the edge, and we don´t have enough -- They don´t have a big enough safety net out there to provide the services that are gonna help them keep their hosing, stay in their families, take care of the mental health, get rid of their substance abuse. There´s just simply not enough services out there for them.
Lisnek: Do you find that there´s a difference in the needs of vets from, say, more recent wars -- Desert Storm, moving forward -- than there are for the vets who are from earlier conflicts?
Peck: To some degree. Our young vets want to be with other young vets, so we -- we kind of put them, that cohort together, 9/11, so they´ve got their friends to help them through this process, but many of the issues are the same. There´s not as much substance abuse now, weirdly. Most of these young veterans want to go back to school, and they´ve got the G.I. Bill available to them. But overall, those issues have been quite similar from World War II on. I mean, if they´ve been in combat, they have some level of post-traumatic stress, and they have to learn to deal with that.
Lisnek: Even though war techniques might be more advanced and technical today. For folks who are watching us who say, "I really want to help Steve out and help his organization out," how can they do that?
Peck: They can go to our website, usvetsinc.org, and find out what we do. We spend 88% of all funds on direct services. And then connect with programs in your community. The communities really have to step up and provide a range of services along with the VA, because it takes all of us to solve this problem.
Lisnek: Steve Peck, thanks for the work that you´re doing. Your dad would be proud of you.
Peck: Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
Lisnek: Thank you for your time.
Peck: You bet.
Lisnek: Stephen Peck with U.S. Vets. Thank you for your service and the work you do. And thank you for joining us, as well. If you want more great conversations with leaders in your community and across our country, all you got to do is go to comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Paul Lisnek.