Homeless vets move out as facility closes

Published On: Dec 13 2012 05:31:30 PM CST   Updated On: Dec 13 2012 06:03:23 PM CST
FORT McCOY, Wis. -

Ten veterans are moving into new homes as a facility for homeless vets at Fort McCoy closes down.

Since 1994, the Veterans Assistance Program located on the military base has been giving homeless vets a place to live.

Those veterans learned two weeks ago that they must move out of their facility by the end of the month.

Since then, the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs has been helping each of those vets with their next step.

As the site director for the Veterans Assistance Program, Chad Johnson has helped hundreds of homeless vets get back on their feet.

"You never leave someone behind and you're always there to help them," said Johnson.

But the 14-bed facility costs $300,000 a year to operate.

"I would say that is expensive. And that's one of the reasons the department made the choice to close the program down," said Johnson.

Six veterans who lived there decided that announcement was the final push they needed to get their own apartments.

One will move to a facility for homeless vets in Chippewa Falls.

Three will move to the 60-bed Veterans Assistance Foundation a few miles away at the Tomah VA Hospital.

The facility's president, Colin Moten, said the consolidation just makes sense.

"Once you start breaking things up and you start putting bits and pieces in different areas, you start incurring more of a cost,” said Moten. “You can basically provide more bang for the buck for the veteran, for the community, and essentially for the taxpayers."

Vets who lived at the Fort McCoy location will no longer have to be transported to the Tomah VA for medical appointments or to meet up with their case workers. They'll be a short walk away.

But there will be a few other changes that will take some getting used to, like having to check in at the facility every four hours. On top of it being a safety issue, Moten said it's also necessary for the private nonprofit to get its grant money.

“At the end of the month, when we bill this, we have to be able to justify that, yes, we can show we have this person," said Moten.

Another change the vets transitioning into the Tomah location will have to get used to is the sleeping arrangements.

At the Fort McCoy facility, each man's sleeping area is separated by cubicle dividers for privacy. In Tomah, most vets share an open bay with five to seven other people.

Johnson also points out his facility has access to more amenities, like a bowling alley, a golf course and a fishing pond.

As Johnson sees the vets move out of the Veterans Assistance Program, he said he's confident they're in good hands -- even though his role in their recovery is coming to an end.

“It's really hard to leave the job. I enjoy working with the vets, and to make sure that they're getting the things that they need, to ensure that they're actually getting the services that they deserve or the services that they need to be able to get their feet back under them," said Johnson.