06/13/2011 10:37 am ET | Updated Aug 13, 2011

New Jobs for Homeless Veterans

Thursday, the US Department of Labor made grant applications available for the Urban and Non-Urban Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP). Employers have thirty days from that date to apply for an estimated 16 grants totaling five million dollars. Veterans Affairs Committee Member Congressman Mike Michaud of Maine predicts that this money will be able to help as many as 3000 homeless veterans find meaningful employment. Grant information and the application are available at the website.

The money's available to just about anyone who has the ability to train and hire a workforce. Universities and Colleges are encouraged to apply. There's another stipulation for an agency, private employer or non-profit organization interested in filing a grant application; they need to "have an understanding of unemployment and the barriers to employment unique to homeless Veterans." And that's where this process may prove tricky.

Working in a homeless shelter, I've known many homeless vets. I've met very few without a job. Now my accounts are anecdotal so I consulted the statistics from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) and they find that 45% of homeless vets need help finding a job. This makes sense especially when considering the more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq where -- according to the Department of Defense -- more than a quarter of a million National Guardsmen and women had been deployed by 2007. And those folks had to leave their civilian jobs when deployed. We have had none of these newer veterans in our shelter.

Freeing up five million dollars to reintegrate homeless vets into the work force is a step in the right direction and for the 24% of homeless veterans the NCHV says have no substance abuse or mental health problems this could be a great way to step back into self-sufficiency and housing. The training aspect of the earmarked funds available in chunks from $100,000 to $300,000 will hopefully result in veterans being trained and reintegrated into jobs that pay well so they can earn enough to keep themselves in a decent home. Unlike the older employed vets I have served who all had poor paying jobs.

There are contributing factors that make it hard for the homeless vets to get work. Prior felonies disproportionately plague their ranks but the largest looming problem is the other side of that statistic on mental health and substance abuse. By the NCHV's count 76% of homeless vets wrestle with these demons.

Almost everyone who comes into my office cries at one point or another. Being homeless really gets a person down. But the veterans who cry in my office don't cry for themselves. They cry about what they've done and the things they've seen. Sitting in an office desk staring at a sixty something year old man while he tells you about crawling through tunnels searching for mines -- knowing all the while that if he had found a mine it would have been by detonating it -- it's impossible to imagine what that fear felt like. Yet as the man shakes telling his story, it's plain to see that he's experiencing that fright all over again.

Our men and women who sweltered in deserts or jungles and shivered along the cold war barrier or in Afghanistan earned our respect by witnessing -- and at times committing -- atrocities. And when they return, those memories often haunt them until they're homeless as well.

Still, there's a code of conduct among homeless veterans. They continue to sacrifice for their neighbors long after their time in the military has ended. They reach out a hand to the homeless civilian next to them because they've known a life that's worse. I have never met a homeless veteran who is living the most difficult part of his or her life. No matter how bad being homeless is, it's easier than their military service was.

I've seen countless kind acts performed at our shelter by veterans. I've even watched a crack addicted vet give what little food he had to a mom with small children. There's a hierarchy in all social settings and homeless vets are respected inside a shelter by their peers just like they are in our broader society -- not just for what they've done but for their continued willingness to serve.

If you apply for one of these grants I recommend that you partner with area shelters. The shelter directors will be invaluable when it comes understanding the barriers unique to homeless vets.