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COMMENTARY: Taking care of Nevadans who served

Of all the obligations we have made as a country, perhaps the most sacred is the obligation we have made to the men and women who have served our military and who have often put their lives in danger to protect our values, our heritage and our homeland.

I had the honor of watching these fine Americans serve their country while I worked for the U.S. State Department to develop a justice system in Afghanistan for 13 months. I hold these men and women in the highest esteem.

There are an estimated 300,000 veterans living in Nevada — about 11 percent of the adult population. Our state’s veterans have served in every American conflict since World War II. Most are doing fine. In fact, the average income for a Nevada household with a veteran is about $59,000 annually, 13 percent higher than average. About 15 percent of Nevada’s homes are occupied by veterans.

But too many veterans carry with them the psychological and physical scars of American conflicts. Nearly one in five Nevada veterans is considered disabled. And there is no question that veterans generally — and specifically those who are disabled — are caught in a painful trap. The lack of affordable housing, particularly in Reno and now Las Vegas, has even pushed many of these veterans onto the streets.

It’s a crisis that the state, our cities, nonprofits and the federal government are working to address. But more needs to be done.

According to the nonprofit Housing Assistance Council, more than 49,000 Nevada veterans “live in homes with one or more major problems of quality, crowding or cost. Housing affordability is the greatest housing problem among veterans.”

The Housing Assistance Council estimates almost 900 Nevada veterans are homeless. According to an annual homeless census, Las Vegas alone has more than 6,000 homeless people. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, homeless veterans tend to be male (91 percent), single (98 percent) and have a mental and/or physical disability (54 percent).

There are more barriers than just cost for those veterans who have suffered physical injuries. Housing, for example, may need to be extensively modified to assist people with impaired mobility. The Houston-based Guns to Hammers has been making some Las Vegas homes of disabled veterans compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. But there’s always more need than there are resources to respond.

Thankfully, there is some good news. For example, Patriot Place Apartments opened earlier this year in eastern Las Vegas. Patriot Place, on Pecos Road, was constructed with federal tax credits that allow it to keep the rents low, providing 50 one- and two-bedroom homes for some of the 168,000 families, many of them including veterans, who need assistance obtaining affordable housing. The federal Department of Veterans Affairs assisted in the project financing, and 44 of the apartments house veterans, some of whom have physical disabilities. According to a Review-Journal story in June on the complex opening, 13 residents were formerly homeless.

Our local, state and federal governments, together with nonprofit organizations, are working to streamline and expedite services for our homeless and disabled veterans. The Las Vegas office of U.S. Vets operates two residential facilities and a community support office, 330 beds of transitional and permanent housing and employment services that help more than 110 veterans return to employment each year. Additionally, the nonprofit provides rapid re-housing and homeless prevention services annually to more than 400 veteran households.

Veterans Affairs is working to improve and expand services to homeless veterans. The Nevada Housing Division operates a program to assist veterans in finding homes called Home is for Heroes. In September, President Donald Trump and Sen. Dean Heller held a signing ceremony in Las Vegas committing $97 billion that included increased funds for veterans’ housing and disability programs.

These are the kinds of efforts we must duplicate many times over as we commit to truly honoring the men and women who have served our country. There are too many of our veterans on the streets and hurting. We cannot forget them.

Vince Juaristi is a Nevada native, a graduate of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and president and CEO of a Virginia technology and management consulting company.

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