NEWINGTON — In recognition of Connecticut becoming the first state in the country to end chronic homelessness for veterans, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald paid a recent visit to the Victory Gardens affordable housing development in Newington.
“I am here because I wanted to recognize all of you here in Connecticut for the many firsts that you have accomplished,” he said, also citing Connecticut being one of the first states to have an affordable housing complex on the campus of a VA medical center.
McDonald was flanked by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Connecticut’s U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, Congressman John Larson, D-1st District, and Richard Cho, deputy director for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
“We have been a state of firsts,” in the realm of veterans affairs, Malloy said, citing Connecticut’s establishment of the country’s first veterans home in Darien and “one of the first shared land projects” between the state and federal Department of Veterans Affairs at the VA medical center in Rocky Hill. “But the real first is that we are the first state in the nation to end chronic homelessness among veterans.”
As evidence for this claim, Malloy cited a survey of the state’s homeless residents taken in the winter, Connecticut’s rate of processing homeless veterans into interim housing within 30 days and permanent housing 60 days after that, and the fact that its housing authorities and residential development owners have worked together to create additional veterans housing.
“Actually, you know what I’m gonna point to — him,” he said, gesturing toward McDonald, whose department designated Connecticut as the first state to have eliminated chronic veterans’ homelessness. “So you don’t have to believe me. You’ve got to believe him.”
Blumenthal noted that more must be done to provide for the men and women who have served the nation so heroically than just finding them a permanent address.
“Today, if I may be a little bit impertinent, is a day for satisfaction but not necessarily celebration,” he said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”
Blumenthal said the country needs to have an even deeper commitment to veterans.
“A roof over a veteran’s head is hardly a fulfillment of our promise to our veterans,” he said, citing causes that contribute to homelessness among veterans that still often aren’t addressed, such as lack of skills training, employment and health care — particularly psychological health care. “We owe our veterans more. We owe them better. Leave no veterans behind.”
Murphy recounted his experience meeting Shelleyann Burke, a veteran who served her tours of duty as a convoy driver in Iraq, navigating roads that were mined with explosives. Upon her return to the U.S., she ended up living in her car with her 8-year-old daughter for month until she was connected to the state Department of Veterans Affairs. Today, Burke has a house, a job and access to services that she needs, he said.
“As a hero, she is being treated in the way that she should,” Murphy said. “This is a day to celebrate all of the Shelleyann Burkes across this state.”