U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., received a Special Recognition Award Tuesday from The American Legion in appreciation of his personal commitment to help homeless veterans and for his introduction of legislation aimed at improving the lives of those who have served in uniform.
"The primary reason we are honoring him is his dedication to homeless veterans," American Legion Past National Commander Ronald F. Conley told hundreds of veterans gathered for the 51st Annual Washington Conference at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Washington. "Congressman Altmire made a commitment to fight for change, and to give opportunity, for homeless veterans. He made a commitment to help them make a change in their lives. He not only did it with words. Congressman Altmire donated $10,000 to the Pennsylvania American Legion's Housing for Homeless Veterans Corp."
"This hopefully will show the rest of the country, and the rest of The American Legion, how important (Housing for Homeless Veterans Corp.) has become in the state of Pennsylvania," Rep. Altmire explained after receiving the honor and thanking Conley, who pioneered The American Legion's homeless veterans program in Pennsylvania. Conley's initiative has provided clean, safe housing for more than 400 veterans in transition in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia over the last 23 years. Since he visited the corporation's annual program on a campaign stop in 2009, Altmire has not missed one. And, said Conley, "he comes at the beginning and he is the last to leave."
"You can spend your time in a number of ways when you are in Congress," Altmire told the crowd. "I've chosen to dedicate my time to making sure our veterans are taken care of, and that we are supporting our troops. That is a bipartisan across-the-aisle motivation for all of Congress."
The issue of veteran homelessness drew Altmire's interest, he said, because he felt the issue was not getting the attention it needed. "When we talk about supporting our troops, and we talk about the men and women returning home and making sure they are cared for, we always talk about the same things – brain injury, spinal cord injury, amputations, the family aspect of being away, the employment situation, making sure the bonus you have earned and deserve is afforded to you ... all these things are important. And they are all in the national dialogue. But homelessness has until very recently been one of those issues where people say, ‘I don't want to think about that.' Because of (The American Legion), that is no longer the case. The president of the United States, the secretary of VA, and American Legion chapters all across this country have made caring for homeless veterans – indeed eliminating veteran homelessness – the top priority of VA. It's no longer something we don't talk about."