More and more veterans are returning from war only to find they can’t find jobs or permanent housing.
Los Angeles has more homeless vets than any other place in America.
Twenty-nine-year-old Antonio Salazar is one of those veterans. He has been sleeping in his van on and off since he got out of the military in 2011. The former marine, who fought in Iraq, thought when he returned home to Los Angeles his military skills would help him land a great job.
“But, it didn’t work out like that.. So I had to make ends meet however I could,” Salazar said.
Salazar says his family is there for him, but his pride won’t let him ask for help. He had no idea the transition from military to civilian life would be this tough.
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“You get thrown out there and you feel kind of lost. All you knew was military life and you always got taken care of.. Now you’re kind of on your own,” Salazar said.
Salazar is among more than 4,600 homeless vets in LA County. Former marine Ricardo Reyes was so disturbed by the state of his fellow vets he decided to do something about it.
“I decided to go undercover and check into a homeless shelter so I could get a first hand experience as to what services are being offered,” Reyes said.
Reyes spent six months living at a shelter in South Los Angeles. He was shocked at how many post 9/11 veterans he found without stable jobs or housing.
“I feel I have that responsibility to my fellow brothers and sisters who I served with who have given a lot of themselves and ideals of protecting and supporting America,” Reyes said.
Reyes went to work for United Way of Greater Los Angeles. In January they launched a new program with local unions to help vets like Antonio Salazar get job training in the construction industry.
Salazar is among 200 veterans enrolled in the pre-apprenticeship program with the heat and frost insulators union in Azusa.
They’re learning skills that will allow them to start working in good paying jobs that offer a real future.
Tom Gutierrez manages the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers. He says the program helps veterans reclaim their sense of pride.
“As a vet we are deployed all over the world to destroy cities and cultures.. We do this to protect.. Now we’re asking when they come back we want them to build the cities now and build families.. It’s the best thing I believe that helps with PTSD .. When you can walk down the street with your son or daughter and say I built that,” Gutierrez said.
For vets like Salazar--the program is life saving. He says he can’t wait to start working. He’s looking forward to getting out of his van and into his own home.
The federally funded program will help five-hundred local veterans this year.
If you’d like more information go to www.unitedwayla.org