For generations, the American public has heard a constant chorus from our fellow citizens about the need to address the short and long-term needs of veterans of all wars. Originally, the focus was on the highly visible plight of many Vietnam-era veterans who suffered the effects of post-traumatic stress. Through the years, scientific and medical research has revealed that stress can manifest itself in many forms. However, it took our country’s many commitments in the Middle East, particularly from multiple overseas tours of many servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan, to illustrate the depth of challenges faced by these returning warriors.
Fortunately in 2015, a group of like-minded veterans and civilians developed a transformative community for warriors of all services that would assist them and their families through the transition from military service to civilian life. The most unique feature of the Bastion Community of Resilience is that it provides a healing environment within an intentionally designed neighborhood. Ill or injured veterans and their families live alongside retired military and civilian volunteers. Bastion residents commit to helping their neighbors, and this, in turn, promotes well-being and reduces social isolation, which is a frequent challenge for this population.
During November, as we express our appreciation for the sacrifices of our military veterans and recognize their advancement within specialized communities, we must do more. For this reason, we advocated with the Louisiana Housing Corporation to create a special preference that incentivizes housing developers to build supportive housing for veterans. This is an ongoing effort that must have the enthusiastic support of business, political and opinion leaders to be successful.
U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie recently toured Bastion. As we demonstrated during his visit, Bastion’s early success is the best indicator that we are fulfilling a need for veterans to live in intentional, mutually supportive communities. These communities can help cities meet the VA’s goal of a functional zero status of homeless veterans, as Bastion has done in New Orleans. There are many warriors, however, with injuries so severe they require assistance in the activities of daily living, and until the promise of Bastion, options remain limited for their caregivers and families.
As a modest beginning to fill a critical gap in the continuum of care , we are working with our Louisiana delegation and others in Washington, D.C. to pass legislation that would increase access to supportive housing developments for veterans who have catastrophic injuries and need lifelong rehabilitative care, but who earn too much in disability compensation to qualify.
For the most affected households, these warriors demand a higher level of community-based support in a stable living environment. And because of their significant rehabilitative needs, they consume a disproportionately large share of VA care. Congressional action thus far has been hit-or-miss, which delays the urgently needed care required of our most challenged veterans.
Our community can do something positive for our warriors. This year, helpful report language was included in an appropriations bill encouraging the Departments of Treasury and Housing and Urban Development to collaborate on a comprehensive solution on the income eligibility issue. Many of us are now working toward a permanent fix through legislation that would increase housing support for qualified veterans.
When someone asks how they can help veterans in a tangible way, tell them to support communities like Bastion and to contact their congressional representatives to increase support for our returning warriors. You can also contact Bastion Community directly at www.joinbastion.org.
Dylan Tete is founder and executive director of Bastion Community of Resilience in New Orleans.