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Poverty growing among L.A. County veterans, study finds

November 9, 2012 | 10:30 am

A UCLA medical student listens to the heart beat of homeless patient Stanley Rudolph, 75, a Korean–era veteran, at the UCLA student– run Mobile Clinic Projecti n West Hollywood in July. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Thousands of veterans in Los Angeles County are falling into poverty  and unemployment, according to research commissioned by United Way of Greater Los Angeles, which issued a call to action Friday to better address the needs of returning service members.

“Our region is woefully unprepared with the support services necessary to ensure a smooth transition into civilian life,” said the group’s regional president, Elise Buik.

Although numerous programs exist to assist local veterans, coordination between them is insufficient, and they aren’t getting consistent or timely data on the population they serve, United Way officials said.

Researchers analyzed data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey that is nearly three years old.

The county was  home to some 328,000 veterans in 2010, according to the analysis conducted by the Economic Round Table, a nonprofit research group.

While most were old enough to have served in Vietnam and earlier conflicts, they included about 36,000 who served since 2001. By 2017, that figure is projected to grow by more than 24,000 as U.S. forces complete the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thousands of veterans are already falling through the cracks, said Alicia Lara, vice president of community investment at United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

The number of post-9/11 veterans living below the federal poverty line in L.A. County increased sharply during the recession, from about 4% in 2008 to nearly 12% in 2010, the analysis showed. That was approaching the poverty rate among civilians: nearly 16%.

Finding a good job is crucial for these new veterans. But nearly 19% were unemployed, researchers found. That is significantly higher than for veterans as a whole, who suffered unemployment at a comparable rate to the civilian population: about 12%.

As many as a quarter of new veterans were paying over 30% of their incomes in rent, placing them at risk of homelessness which is growing among former service members.

And about 7% have physical or psychological disabilities. But many do not pursue care to which they are entitled at VA facilities, or wait months and even years to resolve claims for financial compensation, officials said.

United Way urged business leaders, service providers, policy makers and others to share best practices and develop a joint plan to successfully reintegrate the county’s returning veterans.

“I think employers want to be part of the solution, but they are not sure how to do that,” Lara said.

They may struggle to read a resume full of military jargon or worry about how to accommodate an employee’s physical or psychological wounds. Nonprofits can help bridge the communication gap and provide services that veterans need to succeed in the workplace, she said.

Service providers need support and training to better tailor their offerings to veterans, she said. And they need better data.

Otherwise, she fears more veterans “will fall through the cracks.”

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-- Alexandra Zavis

Photo: A UCLA medical student listens to the heartbeat of homeless patient Stanley Rudolph, 75, a Korean–era veteran, at a mobile clinic in West Hollywood in July. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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