One month ahead of Veterans Day, the Hockessin Athletic Club (HAC) in Delaware has kicked off its annual salutes campaign to honor military retirees. This year, it’s partnering with Beds4Vets, a nonprofit organization, reaching out to homeless veterans and their families.
“What the campaign is—local community members and businesses typically buy flags for their loved ones, or just to show support of the veteran community,” said Lisa McGuire, HAC’s marketing and advertising director.
“And we put them out on Veterans Day and line the drive. It’s really beautiful. The community loves to come to see it,” she said.
Last year HAC put out 1,500 flags along its drive.
HAC has run the initiative for eight years, with a total of $140,000 raised for veterans’ causes.
“These are people who have fought for our freedoms. These are people who have, you know, spent years and years of their life dedicating themselves to public service. And it’s a great way to repay that service,” McGuire said.
This year, all proceeds will go to Beds4Vets that procures house furnishings for military veterans.
Typically, local governments offer shelter programs for homeless veterans but these apartments are often empty, with no beds, towels, or kitchenware. Beds4Vets is meeting the need by making an empty apartment or house feel more like a home, providing new household items to newly housed veterans.
“One of the great things about Beds4Vets is they really kind of found this hole in veterans’ needs and are filling it very well,” McGuire said.
Beds4Vets coordinates with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Beds4Vets’ president and co-founder Zachary Bagdon told The Epoch Times that many veterans are women living in harsh conditions with their children.
“When you hear about a veteran and their two children who are sleeping on the floor for months at a time. It’s heartbreaking,” Bagdon said. “They don’t have a shower curtain. They don’t have towels to take a shower. They can’t prepare their own meals. They don’t have a fork, silverware, pots, and pans.”
Bagdon emphasized why it’s so important to provide these veterans with something essential for their new homes.
“If they’re sleeping on the floor in their home with two or three children after a year, these veterans who had served in the military for five, six, or up to 20 years become hopeless,” he said. “They become depressed. They can revert to bad habits that cause them to become homeless.”
He added, “In some areas, as many as 70 percent of these veterans would go back to being homeless.”
As a U.S. Coast Guard veteran and Sept. 11 survivor, Bagdon noted, “Sept. 11 was the worst day of my life.”
He was in New York City during the World Trade Center attack.
He had been on the 108th floor of the World Trade Center the entire week before he moved across the street to Three World Financial Center due to budget cuts. He was in the street, watching the second plane hit.
“So those memories are very vivid in my mind. And therefore, when we talk about the response to terrorism on a global scale, it’s very sensitive to me,” Bagdon said.
Bagdon noticed that some veterans who had gone overseas to fight terrorists came back with health concerns—mental or physical. These injuries manifest in a way that causes them to become homeless.
“So it’s very sensitive to me because I know I was injured. And I was fortunate to come back in one piece and move on with my life and be successful, but so many veterans are trapped. And that’s why I relate to them so well as I feel for them,” he said.
“And I really want them to succeed. And I think this is Beds4Vets provides us a way to get these veterans up and to move their lives ahead for them and their families.”
Bagdon was in the Coast Guard from 1993 to 1999, serving in 11 countries. He had a back injury in service, which forced him to retire early.
“It’s those veterans who fight for the country, fight for the world, you know, and for the idea that terrorism can’t be allowed to stand and that people should be safe to go to work and to spend their lives,” he said.
So far, the organization has helped over 30 different veteran families in five states since its founding in 2018.
“We’re not so pie in the sky that we think we can beat homelessness in Delaware, or anywhere else in the country, homelessness is still going to exist,” said Christopher Cascio, Beds4Vets’ secretary.
“But what we can do in our small community, in this tiny little state of Delaware is to greatly reduce that number. And if that model is successful, ultimately, we want that model to be used elsewhere in the country,” he said.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said there were 37,252 homeless veterans as of January 2020. That represents 8 percent of all homeless adults in the United States.
Veteran Living in a Car But Needed Surgery
Rick Martin, vice president and co-founder of Beds4Vets, shared “one of the most moving experiences” that he had with a veteran.
It was in 2018, right after Beds4Vets started in Delaware when they got a request from a counselor at the VA on a Friday—a veteran was scheduled to have surgery the following Monday, but because he was living in a car, the surgeon would not do the surgery until he had a permanent place to live.
Martin and his colleagues still remember the Vietnam War veteran had a hole in his face caused by cancer, possibly by Agent Orange. “But he had a serious health issue with cancer. And they would not do the surgery because he would be released back to his car. That’s how desperate it was,” Martin said.
“So we jumped into action working with the VA. They got him into housing. We got him a bed and a nice recliner, some kitchen supplies,” he said.
“We want to fill that gap when they get into that apartment, make that apartment feel more like a home, and let veterans know that they’re not forgotten.”
Three generations of Martin’s family have served in the military. His father served in the army on the frontlines in Korea. He joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in 1974 and served for three years. His son served in the Air Force as a crew chief with U-2 aircraft and was on five tours of duty during the current war on terrorism.
“We’re all driven to help veterans … 100 percent of any donation goes directly to veterans, and we’re all volunteers,” he said.
Veteran With Her Disabled Son
Cascio shared another example that Beds4Vets was able to help with that involved a female veteran in Delaware in 2018.
She had recently moved into a home after being homeless and living in a car with her child who was about five years old and suffering from developmental disabilities.
The mother was commuting back and forth from Delaware up to the Philadelphia Airport to work. A lot of her financial resources were going towards providing childcare for her son and transportation.
“They were living out of duffel bags on the floor, and they didn’t have proper furnishings. They didn’t have a place to, you know, to sit and eat a meal,” Cascio recalled. “And we were able to step in and immediately helped them out.”
When Cascio was a child, his dad owned a local bar in a small town and he used to go there after school and on weekends. He would sit at the bar with men who were World War II veterans, Korean War veterans, Vietnam War veterans, and he’d hear their stories and experiences.
“And it really instilled in me a sense of appreciation of history and the sacrifices that these men endured,” Cascio said.
May Lin contributed to this report.