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Submission For The Record of Swords to Plowshares

Thank you Chairman Filner, Congressman Buyer, and the members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee for the opportunity to submit testimony on this important topic; The True Cost of War: The U.S. Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Founded in 1974, Swords to Plowshares is a community-based not-for-profit organization that provides counseling and case management, employment and training, housing and legal assistance to homeless and low-income veterans in the San Francisco Bay Area. We promote and protect the rights of veterans through advocacy, public education, and partnerships with local, state and national entities.

The purpose of this testimony is to address the true and enduring costs of war as we see it from our perspective as community-based providers.

The cost of war goes well beyond bullets and boots. The true cost of caring for our veterans must be considered prior to their return from war or separation from active duty. The federal government externalizes the cost of war to local and state entities, the community-based continuum of care, non-profit agencies, and to the veterans and their families. We write to extend our strong support for the Veteran Benefit Trust Fund which will guarantee funding for our aging veterans, our recently returned veterans and our future veterans.

At Swords to Plowshares we have 35 years experience in picking up the pieces and pulling our Vietnam-era clients out of poverty, and chronic homelessness. We address mental health need and substance abuse stemming from their military service. We hope that we have learned lessons and may be proactive, prevent future homelessness and suffering by ensuring that this generation of combat veterans are afforded the honor, care and support they need for successful outcomes.

Swords to Plowshares and similar agencies across the country cover operational costs through a mosaic of federal, state, local and private dollars. We are the recipients of federal funding in order to deliver care in the community. However, we are chronically underfunded and must again and again demonstrate the dire need for care “on the ground” in order to operate programs. Quite frankly, we and many other VSOs are at capacity, our staff is working miracles with limited resources to ensure that the veterans in our community receive the care they need. Federal resources are insufficient. The true cost of war must be subsidized by individual donors, foundations, and localities. At the same time, state and local coffers are shrinking while we on the ground respond to the flood of new veterans returning from war and an aging population of veterans.

We are extremely appreciative of the support we receive through Department of Veterans Affairs and our partnership with the VA and their case managers, social workers and medical professionals in our community. We hope to ensure that the cost of this care is not reactive, but planned for well in advance so that each and every veteran have the access to health care, housing, employment opportunities and benefits they have earned in service.