Homeless veterans shouldn't be abandoned

President Abraham Lincoln vowed in his second inaugural address that it was the obligation of the United States "… to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan."

But that commitment appears to have an expiration date, at least as it applies to a position established last year to help homeless vets in a Portland shelter. In fact, the post lasted just one year, as it was cut this past June when the former counselor left.

The position, funded by the Maine Veterans Affairs Medical Center, was intended to assist homeless veterans who had fallen off the radar of the formal VA system, either because they had unproductive experiences with it in the past and had given up, or because they had no way to get to appointments.

According to staffers at the Oxford Street Shelter, the woman who held the position until June had been able to make significiant improvements in the lives of several veterans who came to her for help.

The advantage of having a dedicated position is that a VA staffer could access military records much more easily than other workers, establishing eligibilty of benefits quickly and cutting weeks or even months off the waiting time for help.

The shelter itself had been able to reduce the percentage of homeless vets at the shelter from 21 percent in 2007 to 15 percent in 2010. After the VA specialist was hired in July 2011, the rate dropped to 12 percent.

But the specialist’s servicemember spouse was reassigned, and she left in June after having given several months’ notice. Still, instead of hiring a new worker, the Maine VA Medical Center cut the position, which the state’s two congresspersons say was a violation of the intent of Congress.

Both Reps. Chellie Pingree and Michael Michaud are seeking to find out why funding was cut and have it restored, but in the meantime the shelter has been thrown back on its own limited resources.

Not only are homeless veterans’ stays at the shelter getting longer again, but the organization’s resources to help other homeless people in the city are under increasing strain, staffers say.

Maine’s homeless vets sacrificed for their country. Now their country should sacrifice for them.