Tramecia Garner, Associate Director for Housing & Residential Programs at US charity Swords to Plowshares, recently spent two weeks in the UK with Veterans Aid. From back home in San Francisco she reflects on her visit:
“Now that my time with Veterans Aid (VA) has ended I am left thinking back on these two weeks, what I have learned and what was the biggest take-away from my time in London. Not only did I learn about veteran homelessness in the UK but I also learned how one agency can have a large-scale impact on veteran care far beyond their doors. While Veterans Aid is physically located in London, if you take a closer look at their website you can see that they have had an impact across the world, literally. How does one agency have such an impact with less than 30 staff? They have an uncompromising approach to their work based on data and a CEO that will question the status quo to stay true to the mission at hand: To address the causes of homelessness, but most importantly to end veteran homelessness through prevention.
“One of the things that struck me when talking with the staff at VA is that they are all very clear that their success is when you can’t tell the difference between a veteran that was once struggling and any other person walking down the streets of London. Simple as that seems, it spoke volumes. There was no public cry for veterans to have any “special” treatment within the confines of VA due to their military experience. They used a veteran’s military time as a protective factor and called on those skills to reinforce how to reintegrate into civilian life. This is not to say that they didn’t have veterans that needed support with mental health, substance use, or medical challenges, it just meant that this was normalized and accessing care was seen as what anyone would do who had these issues.
“VA made it clear that the issues facing their veterans are the same as those facing most folks who find themselves homeless or on the brink thereof: an inability to find work that pays a living wage, increasing costs of housing, lack of access to quality education, and so on. So, while being a veteran gets you access to a quicker response system of care in London, at the end of the day veterans are made to feel “normal” and not “special”. Dr. Milroy cited an article during his talk at Kings College which is worth reading about the “Myth of Stressed-Out Soldiers On The Street” by Heidi Kingstone, where agencies and systems present the wounded veteran and its negative impact on service members, both former and presently serving.