To the Editor:
An exciting new veterans program is among recent positive developments in the ongoing redevelopment of Fort Monmouth. As Monmouth County’s representative to the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority, (FMERA), and Chairperson of its Veterans Sub-Committee, I am proud to announce that Soldier On, a non-profit organization that works in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies, is expected to become part of the new Fort Monmouth.
Following several months of site visits, interviews and investigation, I and the FMERA staff have pledged support for this wide-ranging program, which has proven successful in Massachusetts and Virginia. Aimed primarily at single male and female veterans in need, Soldier On helps with housing, food, health care, mental health counseling, job assessment, training, placement assistance and treatment and recovery from addiction. The program is 75% funded by the federal Veteran’s Administration and eligible for additional grant money. As per regulations set forth by the U.S. Army, the contract for such services must go through the Request for Proposals, (RFP), process before we can proceed.
Since learning of this program and contacting its director, Jack Downing, I have been working with FMERA staff, its associated committees and U.S. Congressman Christopher Smith to bring it to the fort. Mr. Downing, Soldier On representatives, Rep. Smith and other stakeholders toured available facilities and identified the old barracks in Oceanport as an ideal site to house the program. FMERA will provide the land and the buildings. Soldier On would be responsible for refurbishing the buildings and will oversee that work with the help of an historic architectural consultant.
Soldier On, which has been assisting veterans since 1994, is a perfect fit for Fort Monmouth, where a large number of veterans could participate in and benefit from its services. The program currently operates a 165-bed shelter in two buildings leased from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Leeds, Massachusetts, and the Berkshire Veterans Residence in Virginia, a transitional living facility managed by formerly homeless veterans. This approach ensures that those served are empowered and take a role in creating and maintaining their own living environment.
Bruce Steadman, FMERA Executive Director, in expressing his endorsement of Soldier On said, ““The FMERA staff is 100% committed to this. I can’t think of a more important thing to have at Fort Monmouth.” Following a presentation to authority members, attendees called the program, “awe-inspiring” and, “a tremendously exciting opportunity.”
Veterans are three times more likely to experience homelessness than the rest of society. There are 275,000 homeless veterans in our country today. Their fight doesn’t end when they get home. We are continuing our efforts to keep the Veteran’s Administration Hospital, presently functioning in Tinton Falls, as a full-service medical facility on Fort Monmouth. These developments are a promise kept to our veterans.Together with the Vet2Vet intervention program we are also bringing to the fort, our intention is to create a state-of-the-art full service veterans hub at Fort Monmouth; continuing its role as a centralized location where all veterans can turn for assistance and support.
I invite you to learn more about Soldier On at www.wesoldieron.org.
Lillian G. Burry
Monmouth County Freeholder
Voting Member, Fort Monmouth Revitalization Authority
Chairman, Fort Monmouth Revitalization Authority Veterans Sub-Committee