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State receives $1.5 million federal grant to combat homelessness among veterans

The money will help expand the Statewide Housing Advocacy for Reintegration and Prevention (SHARP) program that provides support, mental and medical health services and emergency shelter for homeless veterans, according to a statement from Gov. Deval Patrick’s office.

Jim Seney, program manager for community reintegration services at the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System in Leeds, said the state is committed to ending homelessness among its veteran population.

“You don’t see that everywhere,” he said, noting he believes the money will be used to increase efficiency and communication between the various government agencies that support veterans.

Seney said veterans are homeless at a higher rate than the civilian population and there may be several reasons for that.

Many veterans are returning from overseas combat with injuries that may not leave visible scars, but affect emotions and behavior, and some veterans may not even realize they’re afflicted.

Conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury have been affecting troops since at least Word War I, Seney said, but are still not completely understood.

Another factor that may increase the rate of homelessness among vets is the difficult transition from one lifestyle to another, Seney said.

By the time a soldier, Marine or sailor sees combat, they are ingrained in a tightly-regimented, structured environment where everything including meals and sleep is on a schedule.

The culture shock can be jarring, Seney said, after a soldier is discharged and put back in to civilian life, where such regimens are an exception rather than the rule.

“It’s like being in the light and knowing where everything is, and all of a sudden you’re in a dark room,” Seney said.

In a statement, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray welcomed the grant, but tempered his enthusiasm with a reminder that money alone won’t solve the problem.

“We welcome this great news, but there is plenty more work to be done. This increased funding will complement our ongoing work with local, state and federal partners as we address a statewide plan to help individuals and families, including our veteran population, transition to affordable and stable housing,” Murray said.

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