BRADENTON -- Todd Hughes' house burned down Wednesday night.
Hughes, along with his wife and two children, were left homeless.
He is an U.S. Army vet who had served a tour of duty in Iraq, and is the former president of Student Government Association at USF Sarasota-Manatee,
Manatee County's VetCorps immediately jumped in to coordinate help for the struggling veteran.
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VetCorps has been quietly helping veterans for the past three years, although out of the public eye and without fanfare.
"That's what I do. I find assistance for veterans and their families," said Patti Durham, VetCorps prevention coordinator.
Durham comes by her interest in veterans through her son, a veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq. Durham said she wanted to help Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who too often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, homelessness and joblessness.
Initially, she volunteered with Manatee Operation Troop Support, and then signed on with VetCorps, one of the programs of the Manatee County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition.
Although the stipend Durham receives from her service as a VISTA volunteer is sunsetting after three years, she will continue as a staff member of the coalition.
"We are going to bring Patti on board," said Sharon Kramer, executive director of the coalition.
It's a recognition of the huge task facing veterans advocates in coordinating efforts of various agencies to serve vets, and Durham's passion and effectiveness.
VetCorps set out to accomplish three goals: 1.) Ensure veterans are able to secure affordable housing;2.) Ensure vets get help for substance abuse and mental-health problems; and 3.) Help vets in their quest for employment.
VetCorps met with a wide range of agencies and service providers, including Rep. Vern Buchanan's office, the Bradenton Housing Authority, local law enforcement, the Bill Galvano One Stop Center, Goodwill, Suncoast Career Source, as well as local landlords and business leaders.
"A lot of veterans are dealing with (post-traumatic stress disorder) and substance abuse," said Lee Washington, Manatee County veterans service officer.
Veterans don't need to be homeless because they have a government safety net, and many qualify for Section 8 housing vouchers offered under a partnership between the Department of Veteran Affairs and HUD, Washington said.
Veterans don't always identify themselves as veterans, even when they enter the judicial system. VetCorps helped assist law enforcement by producing a card listing Manatee County veterans resources.
"The greatest asset and value of VetCorps is to bring everyone around the table to network," Durham said.
Washington and Durham are regulars at the Manatee County Veterans Council meetings and closely follow the exploration of Veterans Court for Manatee and Sarasota.
State Attorney Ed Brodsky and local veterans advocates are planning a trip March 23 to Pinellas County to observe veterans court there. Essentially, veterans court seeks to divert nonviolent veterans who are showing up in the criminal justice system into treatment programs to help curb self-destructive behavior.
Goodwill is collecting donations for Todd Hughes and his family at http://experiencegoodwill.org/impact/veterans-services. For more information, call 941-355-2721.
For more information about VetCorps, call Patti Durham at 941-705-2212 or Lee Washington at 941-749-3030.