'It's a blessing': VA helps house veterans affected by lava

'It's a blessing': VA helps house veterans affected by lava
Updated: Jun. 12, 2018 at 7:20 PM HST
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PAHOA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - As thousands of people are left displaced by volcanic activity on the Big Island, the VA is currently on the ground in Puna working to find and provide aid to veterans affected by the eruptions.

One way they're providing aid is through their HUD-VASH supportive housing program.  Its housing vouchers are normally used to help connect chronically homeless veterans with a permanent place to live however the agency recently expanded eligibility to include lava evacuees.

Stipends from other programs have also been used to help at least 83 veterans with hotel stays.

Jack Deshincoe, an army veteran and resident and lower Puna resident, is just one of many who required assistance after lava took his home.

"The gases chased us out. But then (the lava) came. In one day, it came down the driveway and consumed everything," Deshincoe said. "Property's buried. Not a blade of grass," said Deshincoe. "Under 10 to 15 feet of lava."

Deshincoe says that the 27 acres he used to call home is completely gone, along with just about everything he owned. He says that if it weren't for the aid he received from the veterans program, he would probably be living in his car.

"No veteran should be homeless," said VA social worker Jamal Mayhew. "And that's (why) our goal is to house any veteran that's been displaced."

The veteran center also includes access to social workers and stipends for other necessities that veterans might need. The veteran center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.

"If they have any counseling issues or mental health concerns. Maybe medications were lost. We really want to address those immediate concerns," Mayhew said.

"Jamal took me under his wing and led me to each organization and helped me out incredibly so," Deshincoe said.

With the help of the program Deshincoe has been able to sign up for SNAP benefits, and received stipends for gasoline. Right now he's sleeping at the shelter while his case manager works to find something permanent.

"It's a blessing," Deshincoe said. "Without all these agencies we'd be running in circles."

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