Veterans Day has passed, but veterans’ struggles continue -- Gazette.Net



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Veterans Day this year has come and gone, but the needs of veterans continue, often unnoticed by the public, according to those who provide services to current and former military service members.

"Memorial Day, people are always doing something for vets, and Veterans Day, they give discounts or have other programs. They make a lot of noise on Veterans Day, but afterward, you don't hear much until the next Veterans Day," said Clayton Smith, veterans service officer the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs.

Smith said he works year-round to assist veterans and surviving spouses facing homelessness, joblessness, foreclosure and other challenges. Approximately 65,000 of Maryland’s estimated 450,000 veterans reside in Prince George’s County, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

"Everyone waits until there is a news story or a battle in Congress over funding for veterans programs or legislation to remember veterans outside of the designated holidays," said Ginger Miller, chairwoman of the Prince George's County Veterans Commission and founder and CEO of John 14:2 Inc. and Women Veterans Interactive, nonprofit organizations dedicated to assisting veterans.

Miller said veterans face a number of challenges, layered one on top of the other, in a sort of "onion effect."

"Some of the issues are reintegration back into the civilian community, under-employment and unemployment, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, all of which can lead to homelessness. Homelessness among the veteran population is a major issue because it also affects the second generation, which are the children of veterans," said Miller, who said she is also a former homeless disabled veteran who served in the U.S. Navy.

The Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs has estimated that approximately 1,000 Prince George’s County veterans are homeless on any given night.

Miller said there are a number of nonprofit organizations involved in assisting veterans, and said she would like to see more individuals and businesses support those groups outside of Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

"During those two times of the year, nonprofits are bombarded with phone calls from individuals and corporations who want to volunteer; it would be great to see this same enthusiasm all year long," she said.

Mike Moore, commander of American Legion Post 136 in Greenbelt, said Prince George's County has 16 American Legion offices, and each one has its own programs to assist veterans. Some posts have service officers, who are able to help veterans through the tangle of VA claims, hospitals and services.

Moore said the Greenbelt post is working with the state Department of Labor to sponsor a job fair for veterans in the near future.

"To quote the American Legion National Commander [Jim Koutz], 'Every day is Veterans Day,’ " he said.

janfenson-comeau@gazette.net