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Program aids citizen soldiers

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Mental Health America of Hawaii has received a $300,000 federal grant to help homeless female veterans and those male veterans who have families reintegrate into the community with training, counseling and jobs.

U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, head of the Appropriations Committee, announced the funding.

Marya Grambs, Mental Health America-Hawaii executive director, said the grant will be administered by Noe Foster, chief executive officer and founder of theStrategist, a minority health care advisory firm.

Foster has been working on a Mental Health America program called "Healing the Trauma of the War" to address stress, depression and other needs of National Guard soldiers and Reservists.

The new project is called POWER Up, an acronym for plan, opportunities, work, examples and results, Foster said, explaining it is an extension of "Healing the Trauma of the War."

"We’re excited about it," she said. "The cool thing about it is Hawaii is one of the top five cities out of 3,000 with the largest proportion of female veterans, so lessons learned out of this project will be important not only for Hawaii, but for the nation.

"The focus of the grant is on Iraq and Afghanistan veterans," she said, noting that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates one in three homeless adults across the country is a veteran. "The challenge is so much for them to deal with when they get back: the anguish of war, reintegrating into society and going back to a job and family they’ve been away from."

Hawaii has nearly 11,500 female veterans, and it is believed several hundred are homeless, Foster said. "Numbers are blurry at this point," she said, estimating the state’s total homeless veteran population at about 450. In addition, "We think there are 268 homeless male veterans, either single fathers or (part of) a couple with children."

Most other grants look at all military services as a whole, with nothing specific for the National Guard, she said.

"We have particular expertise with National Guard soldiers. … Their return to nonmilitary life is so much more abrupt than active-duty soldiers. An active-duty soldier goes back to the base with all the resources, a support system and culture people understand. A National Guard soldier comes back (from war) and goes back to work on Monday and the family life he missed the last year."

She said she and her staff are going to homeless shelters and asking organizations working with homeless people to help identify female and male veterans with families they can help with employment plans and opportunities for "green" job training and placement.

Darcey Builders, a "green retrofit" construction company, and Pacific Corporate Solutions, a global e-waste recycling company, are participating with the job training, and Foster is seeking other minority business enterprises as partners in the project.

"One of the most serious concerns is soldiers coming back to ‘Dear John’ or ‘Dear Jane’ letters, not from boyfriends or girlfriends, but from employers," she said.

"We’re looking for firms willing to hire these veterans and offer benefits to them," she said, pointing out there are tax credits for hiring veterans. A group of businesswomen also is being organized to serve as mentors for female veterans, she said.

Businesses interested in providing training or jobs for homeless female and male veterans with families or becoming a mentor may contact Foster at 752-7223. For more information, go to POWERUpHi.com.

 

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