Roanoke agency sees demand for veteran services double

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This week, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs plans to evaluate the capacity of the Veterans Administration to care for veteran patients. This comes as veterans hospitals across the U.S. are facing scrutiny for long patient wait times. Roanoke Valley organizations continue to see the demand for veteran services increase. In some cases, agencies have seen their numbers double over the past year.

Dennis Leftwich is a former U.S. Marine who fell on hard times including unemployment and incarceration.

After serving 8 years in prison, the veterans knew he needed to turn his life around.

"I just made up my mind that when I come home I am going to do the right thing" said Leftwich.

Leftwich came to Total Action Against Poverty (TAP) for help. Among other services, the agency provide homeless and employment programs for veterans. Assistant Director Jo Nelson said the demand for services has steadily increased in our area.

"The VA medical center is here and there are very few VA medical centers in surrounding areas:" said Nelson. "So we draw people to the medical center from Virginia and West Virginia."

Nelson said TAP provided employment and other services to nearly 60 veterans last year. Since September 2013, the number doubled to more than 130 veterans. Nelson said the increase is due, in part, to the addition of the Supportive Services for Veterans Families program as well as new community partnerships. In 2012, local agencies formed the Roanoke Veterans Coalition.

"We established the coalition as a way for various agencies to stay in contact with each other and be made aware of the services each agency offers to veterans" said Alex Hash, Roanoke Veterans Coalition member. "Through the coalition we can provide housing and addiction resources, employment services."

Hash said the local need for services continues to grow for various reasons.

"With the winding down of the wars and with the problems that big city VA hospitals have faced with wait times" he said. " We have seen an slight increase in veterans coming to the area looking for services."

In an effort to meet growing demands, local agencies continue to work closely with the VA Hospital in Salem to connect veterans and their families to services.

As a volunteer with TAP, Leftwich uses his story to raise awareness and help other veterans get the help they need.

"What I am doing now is from the heart" Leftwich said. "TAP helped me so I am giving back what I learned to try and help someone else."

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