Supporting veterans: Summit focuses on ways county officials can offer assistance
Tim Healy served in the U.S. Navy from 1986 until 1990 and always knew he would make a career in the military.
Healy, 50, grew up getting into trouble and had frequent stays in juvenile hall.
“Back then they’d let you in without a diploma” he said. “The Navy was what I needed.”
Stationed in Alameda, he said he both partied and worked hard. During his duty, he had a DUI, drunk in public charges and got into numerous fights. At the end of his duty, the Navy did not invite him to return.
“I remember the letter because I read it so many times” he said, reciting, “due to alcohol related incidents, retention is unwarranted.”
Ten years after his exit, he had been in jail 20 to 30 times, he said. It never occurred to him to check into a VA hospital for his recurring substance abuse and alcoholism issues. He was on his third strike in front of court, and was facing 37 years to life. His criminal record was attributed to drugs and alcohol, he said.
“I’m not religious,” he said, “but by the grace of god I ended up in Menlo Park VA for a deal.”
His mother had hired a drug addiction therapist who identified Healy as an addict, and recommended him for a six-month rehabilitation program at the VA in lieu of prison. He recalls the therapist saying, “prison isn’t for drug addicts.”
He ended up being deferred from prison and into the treatment program and has been sober since.
“I could be in prison right now,” Healy said.
Healy shared his story with 140 people at the Veterans Summit at the Crowne Plaza in Foster City Wednesday, Nov. 5. He now works as a case manager for homeless veterans and as a mentor for defendants at Veterans Treatment Court.
“These are my people,” he said, “I connect with them.”
The San Mateo County Human Services Agency hosted the summit to assess the needs of veterans living in the county. With about 33,000 veterans living in San Mateo County, the summit also acted as a platform for attendees to also share their thoughts on what they need.
Currently, the county offers veterans legal assistance and services through Veterans Treatment Court and the Veterans Services Office.
“This is a great first step,” said Human Services Agency spokeswoman Effie Verducci.
The initiative to address veterans’ needs began when the Measure A proposals were first developed two years ago after the half-cent sales tax increase was passed by county voters.
The final recommendations for the veterans needs assessment findings will be presented to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors Jan. 13. The final recommendations for what services will be made available to veterans will be based off the data and feedback presented at the summit, said San Mateo County Supervisor Warren Slocum.
Later this month, the county is planning to roll out an identification card program for veterans to gain better access to county services and receive discounts at local retailers and restaurants.
“While the federal government provides health care and other services at the VA, we know there are unmet needs,” Slocum said. “It’s time to take stock, understand the gaps in care, and do right by the veterans in our local communities.”
Bobby Im, 43, a two-time U.S. Army veteran, was invited by organizers and was part of a summit focus group. He acknowledges he wishes there was more support for his family while he was away as well as for other veterans’ families.
“There needs to be more financial guidance,” Im said. “A lot of younger veterans come back and get into a lot of debt.”
Im admits he was lucky in terms of having a good father who told him to put away $250 away every month while he was serving.
“That way when I got back I immediately had $10,000 in savings” he said. “Not everyone has that.”
Im also suggested a strong mentorship program to help veterans transition back would be most helpful.
Some issues highlighted at the summit included persistent homelessness amongst veterans, a need for more employment opportunities, access to services and a larger need for behavioral and mental health services. An issue identified was that veterans don’t necessarily know what services they qualify for.
“I didn’t know to go to the VA for alcoholism,” Healy said.