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Veterans Receives More Housing Assistance

From living homeless in Boston, Jeremiah Pinto and his family relocated to the Bronx where they moved from shelter to shelter in their attempt to get off the streets and feel some semblance to their old lives.

Pinto, a veteran who formerly served in the Navy, said he never thought that he will be among the 62,000 veterans who become homeless on any given night.

“It’s not something you even think of, why would you?” Pinto said while his two children seated next to him during a news conference Monday where several congressional representatives were present. “I was successful in the Navy, but then I lost my job, and it all went downhill from there.”

Pinto said their lives began to get better after they moved to White Plains and they got to keep their section 8 rent subsidized by a Westchester-based agency, the Westchester Community Opportunity Program (WestCOP).

Recently, the company received more funding that will allow them to help another 450 veteran families like Pinto’s.

During the news conference, Congressional lawmakers Nita Lowey, Sean Patrick Maloney, and Eliot Engel announced the availability of a $2.4 million grant to WestCOP and another agency, the Hudson River Housing Program. The new financial aid will allow the VA to help another 700 families struggling in the Hudson Valley. The budget will keep at-risk veterans from becoming homeless and will provide housing to those who are currently without a shelter.

“The sad reality is that homelessness plagues far too many of our nation’s veterans and their families,” Lowey said during the news conference at WestCOP in Elmsford. “With these badly needed funds, fewer of our veterans in the Lower Hudson Valley will be without a roof over their head. WE must continue our work to ensure that, one day, no one who bravely wore the uniform ever finds themselves or their families on the streets.”

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Dedicated Sailor’s Wife Was Barred from Retirement Ceremony

The Department of the Navy is now being sought to intervene in a case involving the wife of a Ship’s Serviceman First Class and the commanding officer. The former is complaining about the decision of the latter not to give her proper recognition during her spouse’s retirement ceremony. The commanding officer insisted that doing such goes against the Defense of Marriage Act, according to the press release from OutServe-SLDN.

Navy Serviceman First Class or SH1 Melissa Smith married her wife TJ Jenkins in Maryland. After servicing the NAS Oceana in Virginia for two decades, she is now ready to retire. However her commanding officer refuses to give Smith’s legal wife the recognition given to any military spouses. The commanding officer reasoned that with the DOMA still in effect, he cannot permit Jenkins to receive any recognition during the ceremony.

Jenkins and Smith are raising six children together. Two of those children are Smith’s and two are Jenkins’s biologically. But that too has an issue. During the ceremony, only Smith’s own biological children are to be given recognition.

“My wife has served our nation for almost 20 years, and this is the way she is treated by her command?” Jenkins said in a statement Friday. “I believe that Captain Geis is being a bully and using DOMA as a shield to hide behind.  He wants to use the terms ‘service member’s partner,’ when in fact I’m not her partner, I’m her wife!”

OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson doesn’t agree with the decision. In her statement, she said that such a case is a clear example of how the Defense of Marriage Act is causing inconsistency in the conduct of the military towards legal spouses of gay and lesbian service personnel.

“As long as DOMA is on the books, commanders will be forced to discriminate, despite the fact that our Commander-in-Chief and Secretary of Defense have made it clear that America’s LGBT service members and their families deserve to be treated fairly,” Robinson said Friday.

WKTR News also noted the inconsistency happening in the armed services. Other military service members have retired from service with their spouses given due recognition since the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

The President of the American Military Partner Association, Stephen Peters, said in press release, that the treatment of the couple is “despicable.” He added. “Certificates of appreciation have been given out repeatedly throughout the Navy to same-sex spouses since the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ It is simply outrageous that this commanding officer is now suddenly trying to use the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as an excuse not to honor the wife of this Sailor at her retirement ceremony.”

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Former Armed Serviceman Shares Two Tales of Homeless Veterans

Mohammed Salarbux of the Huffingtonpost shared his experiences as a National Guard and the time he spends on a food pantry. One of his earlier realizations about being in the armed services came from a suicide attempt by a fellow National Guard recruit in a bathroom next to his stall. He said the incident taught him, “Our armed services are just like most of us: haunted by emotions from our past that sometimes morph into actions that can leave our loved ones puzzled.”

Unexpectedly while serving in the food pantry years later, he’d have a few more interesting life stories from other veterans who unluckily ended up homeless and needy. He said that one of the most noteworthy visitors that their soup kitchen had was a veteran they only know of as Steve. It was just last summer when Steve started visiting their pantry, he recalled. During the man’s first visit, he was limping and barely able to walk. The first thing the man did was to find the nearest chair available and rest his battered feet which was unlike other visitors who would come and feed their empty stomachs first. Upon close inspection, Salarbux noticed that the man appears to have walked for miles with nothing but worn-out plastic slippers. When they attended to the man, the man begged for any used pair of shoes.

Fortunately, the pantry has a pair of old shoes which was donated to them. Steve’s eyes welled up in tears upon receiving the shoes followed by relentless thanks and praises. Since then, Steve has been occasionally appearing at the food pantry.

One cold morning around Christmas, Steve arrived at the food pantry wearing several layers of shirts. Salarbux came up to him that day and asked Steve, “How do you keep warm? Do you have a jacket? Do you have at least a blanket?”

In response, Steve pulled up his shirts and said, “All I have is this plastic under my clothes.” That day, Steve got an early Christmas gift of a new winter coat and a new blanket.

Apart from Steve, the food pantry located at second floor of a building in the Pine Hill’s area of Orlando has another veteran guest. The man’s name is Tony, a 15-year veteran, who fell through the cracks due to domestic problems.

Presently, Tony is receiving livelihood training assistance from the Veterans Association. The organization is funding his studies to become an electrician. However in his current state, he finds it difficult to come up with the fare to get to his classes. Momentarily, he has been continually searching for a job in local restaurants or businesses but not one has even given him the chance to face an interview.

“A sad reality of our system today is that, when someone falls through the cracks, there are no safety nets for them, so that his/her life just continues to spiral downward out of control,” Salarbux discussed what Tony’s story tell us about.

He explained that the story he wrote about the lives of this two men do not intend to put into bad light the military or any agencies. He wishes that the story of the two veterans will “touch others and move them to be more conscious about donating to their local food pantry. Most of us could easily go through our closet and realize there are many things we no longer need. Old shoes or clothing sitting around maybe donated to others who will be more than happy to have our discarded clothing.”

He said if no one has donated that old pair of shoes the day that Steve came to the food pantry; the man wouldn’t have walked out of there happy and hopeful.