Who's helping the thousands of homeless, disabled veterans in the Tri-State?

One group hopes to streamline services and options

CINCINNATI -- Ollie "Tim" Siler got his first apartment at age 57. Before that, he slept under bridges, in alleyways and inside churches.

Siler, who served in the Vietnam War in the U.S. Marine Corps, had difficulty finding his footing after his discharge. He said he barely remembers his first week out of the service at age 19.

"I was filling myself with alcohol, numbing my body, numbing my head, numbing everything with drinking," Siler said. "...Nobody knew what was wrong with me. I didn't know what was wrong with me."

Then he found Joseph House, one of several local organizations that work to help veterans struggling to get by in civilian life.

Joseph House is a facility in Over-the-Rhine for veterans suffering from mental health problems and substance abuse. The organization works to set veterans up with long-term housing and treatment programs.

"It wasn't like, 30 days and see you later," he said. "It was extended care. They let me stay there as long as I needed to stay there -- until I was able to get out and find my own place, until I was able to kind of sustain myself a little bit."

Ollie "Tim" Siler. Photo by Craig McKee.

An estimated 1,300 veterans in Greater Cincinnati are homeless, according to data from the Tri-State Veteran Community Alliance. About 1,964 veterans in Greater Cincinnati have a disability.

Siler still battles bipolar disorder and alcoholism. He said he didn't find the help he needed for nearly 40 years.

"I'm sure it would have been different if I had a little bit more help instead of just, 'Hey, see you later,'" he said.

Joseph House is just one resource for Tri-State veterans. Nathan Davis, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who now works at UC Health, said he found help from the Vet Excel program.

"It was a chance for me to sharpen my skills and get access to some of the top employers in Cincinnati," Davis said of Vet Excel.

Davis said he gained access to business writing, communications and networking classes through the program.

"You have to learn how to build your own structure and you have to build your own support system out here, where in the military that's provided for you," he said.

Although it took him months to learn to be a Marine, Davis said he only had three days to re-learn civilian life. Vet Excel gives veterans the time and tools to "train" for civilian life, program manager Daniel Hance said.

"You know how to stretch yourself into the leader the military needed you to be. This is how you do it in the civilian space," Hance, an Army veteran, said. "We're here to help you succeed."

Although Davis and Siler found help at two different programs (Vet Excel and Joseph House), one group pointed them both in the right direction.

That group is the Tristate Veterans Community Alliance, which was created about 2.5 years ago after a regional report on veterans stated Cincinnati was struggling to connect its multiple veteran advocacy organizations.

"This report stressed the fact that our region is blessed with an adequate number of excellent services that assist our veterans and their families in getting on with their lives following their selfless service to our country," said Dr. Leonard Randolph, a retired Air Force General who chaired the Tristate Veterans Community Alliance Board of Directors until December. "However, the publication also documented an alarming series of gaps between the services available and the veterans' knowledge of their availability."

The group connects non-profits, businesses, government entities, healthcare providers, schools and educational programs with veteran programs and resources. They give veterans information on where and when meetings are held, contact information for different organizations and, simply, awareness of Greater Cincinnati's veteran advocates.

A man who says he's a veteran panhandles at the corner of Reading and Elsinore.

For some veterans -- like Siler -- help means a housing solution. For others -- like Davis -- it's someone to help with workforce reentry.

"TVCA provided me a new opportunity at a time I was working hard to find one," Davis said.

Right now, the Tristate Veterans Community Alliance serves 16 counties in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

"As you come out of the military, it's hard to break from that one culture to the civilian," said Dan Knowles, president and CEO of TVCA. "There wasn't a clear path or a way to navigate through all those offers of help. We set up this organization to help connect those groups and align those services to better serve our veterans and families."

Knowles said the mandatory five-day transition class veterans take when they leave the service doesn't cut it.

"It's not a very effective way to get them oriented to starting a new civilian career," he said. "Keep in mind, about 80 percent of people who leave the military don't have a plan for a job."

The Tristate Veterans Community Alliance is working with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce to build an outreach program that will connect veterans at military bases across the country to the TVCA program – with the goal of making them part of a growing workforce in the Tri-State.

"We were very deliberate in building our list of partners," Knowles said. "It started with 35 or 40 organizations. It's now over a hundred."

A few of the alliance's partners include P&G, PNC Bank, the American Red Cross, Easter Seals, Xavier University, the United Way, USO and the VA. 

To date, TVCA has trained 483 employees and served more than 780 veterans in Greater Cincinnati.

"God gave me a chance (and) I'm still living today," Siler said. "It was 34 years of total hell, but he brought me up out of it."

If you're a veteran in crisis, call 1-800-273-8255 or text 838255.

If you're a veteran looking for non-emergency help in the Tri-State, go to tristatevca.org.

If you're a business or organization that wants to help Greater Cincinnati's veterans, go to tristatevca.org/get-involved.

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