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Dougherty heading VA homeless program

April 05, 1999

Pete DoughertyBy DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Pete Dougherty has worn many hats over the years, from that of local magistrate to longtime member of the Jefferson County Board of Education.

He serves on a statewide teacher certification committee, is respected for his knowledge of public education and has worked for U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and former U.S. Rep. Harley O. Staggers, D-W.Va.

Now Dougherty is director of homeless veterans programs for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington.

He often stays on the road overseeing homeless veteran programs in New York, California, Florida and Maryland, and he sometimes gets frustrated about the cell phones, beepers and e-mail that consume his time.

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But Dougherty said he cannot think of a job that is more important.

He said he cannot imagine anything more pressing than making sure someone who has served in the military is not forced to sleep in the streets.

"It's horrible if we do not take care of them," said Dougherty.

About a third of the country's homeless population, or about 250,000 people, are military veterans, according to VA figures.

Although it's hard to determine what causes the problem, Dougherty said he believes it is often rooted in their training.

Veterans have been taught to be self-reliant, so they often delay getting help for medical complications or mental problems such as post traumatic stress disorder, he said.

The situation spins out of control, often resulting in the inability to hold a job and ultimately, homelessness, Dougherty said.

But Dougherty said the federal government has been successful in getting homeless veterans back on their feet. Currently, more than 6,000 homeless veterans receive medical and job-training assistance from the VA, and most of them will make a successful re-entry into society, Dougherty said.

In the coming year, the department has a goal of reaching 100,000 homeless veterans to get them the assistance they need, said Dougherty.

Among the federal government's programs for homeless veterans are domiciliary units operated at 35 Veterans Affairs medical hospitals across the country, including Martinsburg's.

Veterans live at the VA center for extended periods, participating in 12-step recovery programs for substance abuse or group therapy sessions to correct antisocial behavior, Dougherty said. He said about 600 veterans per year go through Martinsburg's program.

Many veterans from Washington and Baltimore come to Martinsburg because their VA facilities have no residential facilities, he said.

Eventually, the programs aim for a successful discharge of the veteran, including gainful employment.

Ignoring the needs of homeless veterans costs the country dearly, said Dougherty.

Not only do homeless veterans drive up health care costs when their health conditions worsen, but incarceration rates among veterans can also rise when their problems are not addressed, said Dougherty.

Dougherty's role in the process of helping homeless veterans runs the gamut.

He may be speaking publicly about the issue, like he will do next month for the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, or overseeing development of new facilities.

Currently, Dougherty is working on a project to turn an old hotel in Nevada into a transitional housing program for homeless vets.

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