King County veterans find stability through levy

For all the Veterans Day memorial services around King County and in Federal Way this week, there’s one program exclusive to the area that helps veterans all year.

The King County Veterans’ Program is rounding out its fifth year. The program uses a levy approved by voters in 2005 to provide support to veterans and members of the armed services who reside in the county.

The program offers emergency financial assistance, such as help with rent or food, and services like psychiatric counseling, employment assistance and transitional housing.

Each Friday, the Multi-Service Center in Federal Way serves veterans and is one of nine weekly centers in the county. There are main centers in Seattle and Renton, and there are monthly programs in Enumclaw, Carnation and Lake Washington Technical College.

“The mission is to provide services to service members and veterans and their dependents to attain living stability,” said King County Veterans’ Program Manager Fred Steele. “Our major focus is to provide case management, to stabilize individual veterans and their families' lives through resources to encourage employment and permanent housing.”

The program has roots stretching back to the 19th century, in a state law that allows individual counties to establish veterans assistance programs. Countywide, the levy generates around $7 million per year for veterans services.

Steele said that in the first nine months of 2010, the program helped 2,188 individuals — 731 of whom were new to using the service this year.

The bulk of the users were veterans of the Vietnam War at 55 percent; 36 percent were Gulf War veterans; and 5 percent were veterans of the "war on terror," which includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Steele said veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan seeking assistance are increasing. So far this year, 77 have sought help — a 40 percent increase from the 55 who got help in 2009.

King County is “one of the leaders in the nation. We don't know of a program specifically like this throughout the nation. It is unusual, and it's valuable and it's important,” he said.

The dedicated levy for the program came from a desire to reduce the population of homeless veterans. Steele said that a large number of homeless residents are veterans. Government leaders realized this, and in 2005, began asking for a way to solve the problem.

“What they saw was a higher percent of veterans among the homeless and the need to care for these veterans that were apparently not being accessed at the (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs),” Steele said.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, as many as 107,000 veterans are homeless each night, but perhaps twice that number will experience homelessness during a given year.

A 2009 point of contact homelessness survey by the Department of Veterans Affairs found more than 8,000 homeless veterans in a region that includes Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Idaho.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans cites post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a cause of homelessness. Steele said the county contracts with the Washington State Veterans Affairs department to provide one-on-one counseling to veterans suffering PTSD.

Steele did not immediately know the percent of individuals the program served who were unemployed, but the program does provide employment assistance. If a veteran needs tools for work — if they’re a carpenter or electrician — the program can help buy them. There’s a retraining program to get veterans into the “green” economy. Resume and job skills training is also available.

The levy will be up for renewal in November 2011. The levy is split into two funds, one for veterans and the other for human services, with the levy revenue totaling around $13 million each year. The levy also supports services for veterans in Federal Way at Valley Cities Counseling and Consultation and HealthPoint.

“We really appreciate voters supporting veterans so that they know they're not forgotten,” said Debora Gay, manager for veterans and community services programs.

Learn more

The Federal Way site is available by appointment. To make an appointment, call (877) 904-VETS.

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