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Downtrodden vets get coats, other clothes with Miller’s helps

HonorAir founder Jeff Miller, the Hendersonville councilman and businessman, noted HonorAir seeks donations to refurbish funds to send World War II veterans to their monument in Washington, D.C. Local HonorAir has flown about 2,400 WWII vets since 2006.

The group still arranges for a few more vets to join Upstate (S.C.) HonorFlight trips out of Greenville, S.C. HonorAir spends $500 for each WWII vet’s air and bus fares and meals for a day-long trip, Miller said.

“There’s no guarantee we’ll be functioning next year,” Miller cautioned. “HonorAir itself needs funding. We’ve depleted the money. Every cent we get in, we’ve spent on veterans.”

HonorAir has branched out for holiday aid, among other causes. “Our focus has been on homeless veterans,” Miller said. “We tried to help them with Christmas presents.”

Last week, Miller donated $5,000 from HonorAir to aid downtrodden and homeless area veterans — males in Veterans’ Restoration Quarters (VRQ), and female vets in Steadfast House. Both facilities are in Asheville, and run by the Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministry (ABCCM). HonorAir also donated to ABCCM in 2010.

The money goes primarily for work clothes, boots and tools for 200 veterans at VRQ and 12 women vets at Steadfast House, Miller said. “Many need coats, gloves, caps, shoes, sheets and towels. We’re not talking about MP3s” music players or other frills.

Miller guaranteed the donation. So it was not a conditional match. But he “hung it out there as a challenge gift” in hope others would follow his lead, with a full match. He said one individual did two weeks ago, and another one might to triple the funds. “This is so our community does not forget our veterans at Christmas.”

Any leftover funds go to primary services of ABCCM’s Veteran Services of the Carolinas such as substance abuse counseling, and job training and supplies such as a “chef’s coat and hat for culinary school or nursing scrubs,” Miller said. He noted the agency assists about 600 veterans’ families in the state’s 26 westernmost counties, getting half of clients “back into the workforce and into permanent housing.”

Four winters ago, Miller spoke with veterans who were staying at VRQ to find out their main needs. “They said ‘we really need waterproof coats. We walk, ride mopeds or take the bus everywhere we go.’ They need to be warm and dry, in cold weather. That’s how it started with us helping.”

That first winter, HonorAir bought 250 coats at one-third the list price from Diamond Brand Outfitters, and also gloves and woolen caps. The available cash for the project was more then, at $13,500, Miller added. This winter, the coats are at less of a discount and from another store.

Miller was stunned to find out there are many homeless veterans in the area. His discovery was in November of 2010, while dining out in Asheville and returning to his car. Miller saw several men on a chilly day “standing in a circle, talking. They had ‘camo’ (camouflage) jackets on. I figured they were Vietnam veterans. They were outside VRQ. I asked them about that facility. They said it’s a homeless shelter, for veterans. I said ‘you are kidding me.’ They said ‘nope.’

“They took me around, to see the facility. They were proud of it. Most impressive is that the dining hall and kitchen/’galley’ are not only for their meals, but also where A-B Tech teaches culinary classes to veterans. They’re coming out of there becoming chefs, some even at Biltmore.”

While ABCCM is “faith-based, they don’t force religion down your throat,” Miller said. They teach life structure. “You have responsibilities, and do chores. You take ownership of your actions. They work with the V.A. (Veterans Administration staff) to deal with substance abuse, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other personal issues.”

VetCoats1Vets_small

The average age of vets hosted by ABCCM was 52 in 2010, Miller said, but now “we’re seeing younger vets, even in their twenties” such as ones recently serving in the Middle East region. Thus HonorAir is branching out beyond WWII vets in its mission, which now is “Empowering America’s deserving veterans of all generations.”

The Steadfast site is secretive to provide safety for women sheltered there, some from abusive relationships, he noted. But he met a few of them who came to visit with him at the main campus. “They impressed me by how anxious they are to get back on their feet. Many have children.”

In figuring how they became homeless, Miller said “maybe these vets made some mistakes. Or they just fell on hard times. In the last six years, the economy has been just horrible. When these men and women come back from military service, too often there are no jobs — especially paying enough to support families.”

VRQ sets aside 160 of its 246 beds for transitional housing, 36 for emergency overnight stay to go with 50 single “permanent supportive” housing units. Steadfast House provides transitional housing for 27 single women and as many as seven mothers with children, including 10 beds for female veterans and two beds for emergency shelter. It averages 43 women per night.

Imprisoned Marine Released

In another pro-veteran cause this year, Miller led the local charge to help get Marine reservist Sgt. Andrew Paul Tahmooressi out of a Mexican jail. The veteran of battles in Afghanistan was imprisoned for seven months, with no fair trial in sight and for what many deemed unfounded weapons charges.

The South Florida native, 25, insisted he took a wrong turn from near his destination of San Diego and errantly enterered Mexico, when simply transporting his own guns and belongings in moving out West.

His mother Jill and sister Andrea visited this area in early September, hosted by Jeff and Tamara Miller and raising money for her son’s legal defense. After mounting publicity and pressure for the Obama administration to get involved, some U.S. officials and congressional members intervened. Mexican authorities finally released the marine on Halloween day.

“When his mother Jill called, I was very relieved and happy he was out of there and able to spend the holidays with his family,” Miller said. “That began his healing from trauma from serving (in combat) in the military, then abuse he suffered from Mexican prison officials. It was great to meet him finally. His whole family saw us, the day before Thanksgiving. The day after, Beck and I took him to dinner and got to know him. He’s a humble young man. He has to wrestle with many issues. But he seemed composed.”

Donors are encouraged to write checks to Veteran Services of the Carolinas to help clothe homeless vets, and/or to HonorAir itself to help restore its private funding. Checks can be mailed to HonorAir at P.O. Box 331, Hendersonville, N.C. 28793.

For more about Honor Air, check www.honorair.com.

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