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Catholic Charities' Ready Vet Go' meets needs of low income Vets


press release 

In his Camden apartment, 76-year-old Antonio Correa waits for his wife

and daughters.Maria Elena Hernandez, his wife, and his daughters Orlehenyz and Mary Quermi are living in Panama until the day enough money can be raised for one-way plane tickets, and the family can be reunited in Camden.

An Army veteran who was once homeless, Correa is a client of the Ready, Vet, Go program of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden. The program, with focuses on housing needs, is funded through a $744,740 grant Catholic Charities received from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to conduct a one-year program to address the needs of low-income veterans in six counties of South Jersey.

To be eligibile for the program, an individual must be a veteran who is the head of a household, or spouse of a head of the household; served in one of the U.S. branches of the U.S. military, or been deployed across state lines as a member of either the National Guard or Reserves; be very low-income, defined as being 50 percent or below the area median income as determined by HUD; and reside in South Jersey.

"There are a lot of individuals out there that need this service," said Mark Taylor, director of Veterans Affairs for Catholic Charities. This past year, he said, more than 250 veterans and their families have received short-term assistance from the Ready, Vet, Go program.

The program provides almost $180,000 in temporary financial assistance to veterans and their families who are waiting for approved VA benefits. These temporary payments would be in the form of rental payments, utility payments, security and utility deposits, moving costs and public transportation expenses.

"We assist them with whatever issues that are causing them to be homeless," said Taylor. For those who step into his office, Taylor said, the goal is get them to where they have "the ability to sustain themselves, can afford where they are living, and get back on the road where they need to be."

Born in Puerto Rico, Antonio Correa entered the army at 19, reporting to Fort Dix for basic training. He attained the rank of sergeant, fought in Vietnam and, while stationed in Panama in 1972, met his future wife.

Antonio and Maria Elena lived in Panama with their two daughters, until a heart attack and high blood pressure caused Antonio, who didn't have health insurance, to seek health care in the United States. He received care from the Veteran Affairs Clinic in South Jersey, and stayed with his sister for a time in East Camden, but eventually was living in the streets.

After Veteran Affairs put him in touch with Catholic Charities, the diocesan organization "helped me quick," Correa said with the help of a translator.

Ready, Vet, Go helped him secure an apartment at Faison Mews last April, provided assistance with the rent, food and furniture for the apartment.

Correa also receives income from Veterans Affairs, and Social Security. "Their help has been fantastic; I'm so grateful to them," he said.

Now, he waits for his family.Dannie McLaughlin, 47, renting a house in Pennsauken with help from Ready, Vet, Go, is also appreciative of the help Catholic Charities has provided.

At one time a Haddonfield resident, he joined the Army at 23, becoming a recon specialist and fighting in Operation: Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s, and seeing combat in Iraq as a roving scout. Leaving the military after five years, and beset by psychological and physical injuries, McLaughlin worked different jobs in Arizona, before moving back to the Philadelphia area in 1999.

Until last December, he lived in a group home for individuals with substance-abuse issues. Finding himself homeless, he lived in his car, refusing his mother's offers to come live with her. While homeless, he helped out at the Mt. Pisgah, AME Church in Lawnside, assisting the pastor with church duties.

Now connected with Catholic Charities, and with a secure home, he is currently working toward a degree to become a Methodist pastor. "My life is turning around," he said.

For Ready, Vet, Go, the goal is to turn many more lives around. Three case managers cover two counties each in the diocese (starting Oct. 1, there will be a fourth case manager), and four outreach workers speak at VFW events and with other veterans' organizations about the services they offer.

On average, the program helps 20 veterans and their families a month. Taylor knows there are more out there. "It's a benefit for them, that they've earned with their service," Taylor says. "This is us giving back for what they've done."

Written by Peter G. Sanchez for the Catholic Star Herald


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