California Independent Living Centers Offer Living Services to Veterans
California's 29 Independent Living Centers (ILCs) serve as disability experts to veterans and their families while working hard to ensure they never hear "that's not our service." ILCs provide a full range of independent living services to veterans, including assistance with housing and housing modifications; peer support; benefits counseling; assistance with independent living; and outreach within the community to connect with veterans while creating awareness around the issues they face and accessible services.
"California is home to nearly 2 million veterans. Today, numerous veterans return home with a functional limitation after serving in the armed forces and are faced with navigating through unchartered waters to find services," said Executive Director of the State Independent Living Council (SILC) Liz Pazdral. "And this becomes particularly difficult when they don't know about the resources available to them, which is where ILCs can play a significant role."
One example of ILCs reaching out to veterans can be seen at the Independent Living Resource Center, Inc. (ILRC-Satellite) located in Santa Barbara, CA, which received a grant and specifically hired a veteran to lead a Veteran Outreach Services program. Initially, the new hire circled throughout three counties and began building a large network of contacts. During this process, veterans became aware of the services ILRC-Satellite provides, and it wasn't long before word spread and veterans were approaching the Center with a broad range of issues, in particular, homelessness.
"Veterans from recent conflicts are facing homelessness much more rapidly than any previous theatre of war, burning through their benefits very quickly and finding themselves on the streets sooner," said ILRC Executive Director Jo Black. "With our help, they experience a supportive environment where we assist them in getting much needed services such as talking to a benefits expert to mitigate loss of benefits or gain access to durable medical equipment until the benefit is authorized. In essence, we point them in the right direction and help them along the way."
The loss or potential loss of benefits is a significant issue in working with veterans. Like ILRC-Satellite, the Disability Services & Legal Center (DSLC) in Santa Rosa, CA has staff focused on assisting veterans with benefits, including Social Security (SS). In particular, DSLC staff recently accompanied two veterans, who had been denied SS and were facing eviction from their homes, to a hearing that resulted in the judge awarding benefits on the spot.
The DSLC also is seeing many veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries who, on the surface seem fine, but sometimes are challenged to just get through a day. According to DSLC Executive Director Adam Brown, "Veterans often don't see themselves as needing services and, if they do, believe the only services available to them are through the Veterans Administration. We show them what's available and work with them to create an independent living plan that helps them articulate their goals and how to achieve them through multiple resources."
As with other ILCs throughout California, both ILRC and DSLC want veterans to know that the ILCs have staff who understand what veterans have been through and that they are not alone. "As a community-based service, we are one of the most cost-effective and welcoming options for veterans and people with functional limitations," said Black. "We understand that getting into the community, maintaining relationships, going to school and getting a job can be overwhelming. Our Center is a good place to start."
From Brown's perspective, "We want people to understand that having a disability doesn't put you into one big classification of people who can't do anything. It means having issues that can make things more difficult, but we are here to help veterans transition through those difficult issues. We help them see the world of possibilities and opportunities for rehabilitation, treatment, employment and many more services and resources of which they might not be aware."
The California State Independent Living Council is an independent state agency which, in cooperation with the California State Department of Rehabilitation, prepares and monitors the State Plan for Independent Living. SILC solicits continual public feedback on the effectiveness of independent living services and coordinates with similar agencies and councils at the state and federal levels to increase communication and help assure that services to people with disabilities are delivered effectively.
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