Housing Nonprofits March in Step with Returning Soldiers

As U.S. military operations subside overseas, more young men and women are returning home and looking for housing.
It takes between 6-12 months for the VA to process a claim for disability.
It takes between 6-12 months for the VA to process a claim for disability.
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Puyallup - Washington - US

Feb. 22, 2013 - PRLog -- As U.S. military operations subside overseas, more young men and women are returning home and looking for housing.

Such a search could prove difficult after time overseas, but housing nonprofits are stepping up to give soldiers a "Semper Fidelis" military welcome.

In 2008, Operation Homefront, a nonprofit organization that provides emergency assistance to the families of service members and wounded warriors, created a transitional housing program.

The program, which is located in Washington, DC; San Antonio, Texas; and just north of San Diego, rents a block of apartments from a regular civilian apartment complex in order to provide a free place to live for wounded service members and their families.

"Whenever someone is wounded [on duty], they do one of two things: they get better and return to service, so they go back to a unit and they continue doing their military job or they get out of the military due to their injuries," Jim Knotts, president and CEO of Operation Homefront, told HousingWire.

When a service member can no longer serve due to injuries, they will file for disability with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

"On average, it is taking between six and 12 months for the VA to process an initial claim for disability," said Knotts.

So for six to 12 months, the injured service member is living on a percentage of their military pay, even though they technically qualify for disability the very next day.

During this transitional period, many of the service members aren’t ready to return to work. They may need time to recover, attend occupational or physical therapy and some may even need to use the GI Bill to get their education since they may have entered the army right out of high school.

This is where Operation Homefront comes into play. “We’ve been a safety net and a bridge between their service in the Department of the Defense and their support that they have earned and will eventually get from the Veterans Administration,” said Knotts.

Knotts added, "We have saved some families from being homeless. We have certainly prevented homelessness. We have allowed families to remain together as the service member recovers and as the whole family makes that transition back to civilian life."

Operation Homefront added a more permanent housing solution for service members last year. Several banks, most notably JPMorgan Chase ($48.62 0.37%), donate foreclosed homes to the nonprofit organization to be renovated so it can be move-in ready.

"We are matching military families to those homes and we are providing supportive services to every one of those families for a period up to two years," said Knotts.

When a family is matched with a home, they agree to a number of requirements based on a transition plan that is created with the family in conjunction with the Operation Homefront case manager. The families are still required to pay property taxes and HOA fees and should have renter’s insurance.

At the end of the two-year period, if the family has met all of their requirements, Operation Homefront deeds the property over to them and the family is able to own the home mortgage-free. Typically, families are also putting away $100 per month to cover final closing costs at the end of the transitional period.

Other nonprofit organizations, such as the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation, are also working to meet the unmet needs of the military personnel and their families.

In fact, last year the PenFed Foundation provided close to $2 million in grants and loans to assist 30% more current and retired military than in previous years, according to the organization.

“They need help with their finances, child care, and even buying a home. It’s a reminder that just because the wars aren’t so much in the headlines anymore, veterans see the impact of war every day,” said Kate Kohler, chief operating officer of the PenFed Foundation.

In 2012, the foundation provided more than 525 grants totaling more than $650,00 in emergency financial assistance and child care to wounded service members through its Military Heroes Fund.

Through its Asset Recovery Kit program, the foundation provided nearly 1,200 interest-free loans last year, totaling more than $500,000 in lending to service members and veterans looking to avoid payday lending.

Additionally, through its Dream Makers program, the PenFed foundation provided a record number of grants in 2012 totaling $823,000 to help service members and veterans who were first-time home buyers with downpayment and closing costs. According to the foundation, this marks a 300% increase over the past two years.

"We are thankful for the increased support we've received from our donors and the community-at-large," said Kohler. "Because of their help, we’ve been able to meet the growing need among those who selflessly defend our nation to ensure our freedom."

The military’s plan is to withdraw the U.S. troops from Afghanistan by December 2014; so for the next two years, there will still be a number of service members deployed to Afghanistan.

But Knotts says the public is often under the misconception that the troops no longer need support because they’re no longer fighting a war anymore.

"However, the national military strategy for our country, that was published last spring, said we think there is going to be a more significant need to have more military deployed invisible in the Asia Pacific region," Knotts said.

This means there’s still going to be a large number of service members deployed away from home.

Knotts encourages the public to be cognizant of the fact that a lot of these military families will still be dealing with financial stresses and still need support moving forward.

"It may not be to a war zone, which is always a good thing, but they’re still going to be away from home. Many of them will not be able to take their families, so there are separation issues," said Knotts.

Original Content by Megan Hopkins for HousingWire.com
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Tags:Non-profit, Real Estate, Military, Operation Homefront, Veterans Affairs
Industry:Non-profit, Real Estate
Location:Puyallup - Washington - United States
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