On addressing veterans homelessness, ‘it’s all connected’
Clifton Lewis, executive director of U.S. VETS-Washington D.C., speaks during a panel on veterans homelessness during the Veterans Employment and Education Commission meeting at the 2023 Washington Conference on Feb. 27, 2023, as Major Kate Little and Mark Walker, deputy director, Bay Operations and Programs, Swords to Plowshares, look on.

On addressing veterans homelessness, ‘it’s all connected’

Veteran homelessness is no easy issue to overcome, but a panel of experts discussing it before The American Legion’s Veterans Employment and Education Commission agreed that the conversation must continue.

“There are other causations … they must be connected. Every department must tackle these tragedies and work together to realize the causations,” said Bob Looby, chairman of the Department of New Jersey Employment, Homeless and Education Committee.

“I agree, it’s all connected, whether it’s unemployment, homelessness, food insecurity, mental health,” said Major Kate Little of the U.S. Army Soldier for Life program.

Little and others discussed veteran homelessness during the commission’s meeting as part of the Legion’s annual Washington Conference on Feb. 27.

Clifton Lewis, executive director of the Washington, D.C., site of U.S. VETS, noted the challenges older homeless veterans face in finding employment and navigating healthcare and other assistance.

“We don’t want to tell them that they can’t go back (to careers they had before), so we try to give them a blueprint or plan to get them back in the process of thinking about what they want to do, but you need some short-term income now,” Lewis said.

Panel moderator Mark Walker, deputy director for Bay Operations and Programs for Swords to Plowshares, agreed that the homeless problem isn’t just a veterans issue. But he encouraged the commission to “let veterans be your ‘exhibit A’ … on how you deal with the civilian problem.”

Guest speakers

In addition to the homelessness panel, several guest speakers covered a variety of topics during the commission meeting.

·       Chris Moore, president of the Aviation Mechanics Coalition and representative of the Teamsters Airline Division, discussed pathways to get veterans employed in the industry. “We think there should be a competency test (for maintainers) like with pilots” to help ease the transition from the military to a civilian career.

·       Dan Kunze, the vice chair of Task Force Movement, spoke about the coalition and its efforts to draw on veterans to help address the labor gap and supply chain issues. “We’re only a year old, but in a year we’re going to be an over $4 million veterans service organization solely dedicated on finding people jobs,” Kunze said.

·       Lisa Lutz, CEO of Solutions for Information Design (SOLID), emphasized the importance of credentialing for veterans. “Veterans with certificates or certifications are more likely to be working — 73 percent compared to 64 percent. … Similarly, veterans with certificates or certifications are likely to be paid more — $10,000 higher in the median income,” she said, citing data from the Lumina Foundation.

·       Wendy Lang, chair of the George W. Bush Higher Education Task Force and president of Operation College Promise, encouraged those in attendance to help spread the word on education benefits. “Spread the word! There are a lot of people out there that can’t afford education, and there are a lot of great things you can learn,” she said.

·       Brent Murphy and Michael Dubanewicz of John Patrick University discussed the university’s aim to help veterans reach their educational goals while addressing major shortages in the healthcare industry.