Op/Ed: Supportive service for Veterans’ families

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The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”                                                                              

                                                                                                 -George Washington

By Tom McCourt, Special to The Times

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Tom McCourt

According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, while veterans make up only seven percent of America’s population, they make up nearly fourteen percent of our adult homeless population.   As part of a dedicated national effort to end veteran homelessness by 2015, the Veterans Administration has implemented the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program (SSVF).  The goal of the SSVF program is to promote housing stability among low-income Veteran families who reside in or are transitioning to permanent housing.

The VA conducts this program through a national network of non-profit organizations and consumer cooperatives.  In Chester, Montgomery and Delaware counties, the Veterans Multi-Service Center has partnered with Catholic Social Services to establish “Operating Base Cecilia”, named for the former St. Cecilia’s School at 605 East Lincoln Highway in Coatesville.

The Veterans Multi-Service Center (formerly the Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service and Education Center) is a non-profit organization founded in 1980, dedicated to assisting our nations Veterans.  Led by Executive Director Tim Meserve, the Center (VMC) provides a full array of free services, programs, opportunities and advancement to Veterans.  Each year the VMC serves over 3,000 Veterans.  It serves over 172,000 meals to homeless and at-risk Veterans.  Highly-skilled experts provide Veterans Benefit services, employment training and job location assistance, and counseling.

VMC Housing programs include The Perimeter day program, the 95-bed LZII male transitional residence, and the Mary E. Walker House, a female transitional residence.  A new Women Veterans Center at the VMC serves the unique needs of female veterans of our military, including victims of military sexual trauma.  The VMC features a wealth of on-site resources including a VA Homeless Outreach Team, VA Representatives, Careerlink representatives and transportation options.  Many of the VMC staff have themselves served in our military, and take great pride in assisting their fellow Veterans.

Operating Base Cecilia, the VMC’s outpost for SSVF services in Chester, Montgomery and Delaware counties is led by Lieutenant Colonel Maura “Mo” Gillen (US Army, retired), Deputy Executive Director of the VMC.  Lt. Col. Gillen has assembled a cross-disciplinary team of case managers, housing specialists, Veterans Service Officers, social workers, outreach specialists and stabilization specialists.  This squad of problem solvers is ready and willing to assist any veteran in need with referrals, Veteran Benefit information and assistance, resume’ writing, job location, treatment options and any other issue which puts the Veteran and their family at risk.   From job interview preparation to negotiating lease details with potential landlords, coordinating treatment options and assisting with VA benefits, the team at Operating Base Cecilia stands ready to assist at-risk veterans and their families throughout Chester, Montgomery and Delaware Counties regardless of the complexity of their situations.

Operating Base Cecilia is located at 605 East Lincoln Highway in Coatesville.  Regular hours for walk-ins or appointments are 8:30 AM-4:00 PM, Monday through Friday.  Enter through the rear door, off Diamond Street.  Telephone: 610-384-8387.  For more information visit www.vmcenter.org

The author is a staff member of the Veterans Multi-Service Center at Operating Base Cecilia, and a former US Marine infantryman.

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