The United States began fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks 11 years ago. Since then, the Kentucky-based USA Cares has been providing help to financially struggling soldiers and families. However, as the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down, the USA Cares is fielding an increasing number of calls for help from returning veterans. These heroes were in need of housing and other temporary assistance because of high unemployment rates and backlog of Veterans Administration claims.
Requests to the Radcliff-based group have grown from an average of 150 per week to about 250, officials from the non-profit said. USA Cares has provided short-term grants totaling more than $9 million since 2003 to more than 9,000 post-9/11 service members and vets. By year’s end, group officials estimate that they will get nearly 10,000 requests this year for help with rent or mortgage, food, fuel and car repairs, compared to an average of about 7,000.
The group expects about 475 of those requests to come from Kentucky, up from 391 last year, with about a third qualifying for grants, said program director Jennifer Robinson. “I’ve seen a tremendous uptick…but it’s not just in Afghanistan. We’re reducing the size of our troop strength. So, I think we’ll see an even greater demand for these services,” said Robinson.
Helping our Vets
USA Cares is just one of many donor-funded, non-profits nationwide that try to fill gaps between government programs. The group’s rising demands provide a window onto some of the challenges facing post-9/11 vets. Many returning veterans still face financial problems as they readjust to civilian life. Unfortunately, some of our veterans are also coping with post-traumatic stress, brain injuries, long absence from the workforce and accumulated family financial strains from multiple deployments, said Bill Roby, the incoming chairman of the group. “The Department of Defense is doing what it can, but there are a lot of veterans slipping through the cracks,” said Roby. USA Cares helps when those problems arise as a result of their service, such as national guardsmen who come home to find their job eliminated, discharged soldiers waiting for VA disability decisions, ongoing PTSD-related challenges or changes in housing allowances.