Kamal grew up in a tough neighborhood in Harlem and joined the Army when he was only 17, serving in the Vietnam War as a paratrooper.
Although Kamal lived and worked all over the country, his military service left him with several chronic injuries—paratroopers often sustain long-term injuries to their feet, knees, and backs. Large crowds, loud noises, and airplanes sometimes brought up trauma from the war. Even so, the US Dept. of Veterans Affairs (the VA) unjustly ruled that Kamal was due only a small fraction of the healthcare benefits available to injured veterans, leaving him on his own to deal with chronic problems.
After moving to Anchorage last winter, Kamal stayed at a handful of community shelters until he got in touch with Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF), one of the Veteran programs within Homeless Family Services.
Ryan, a case manager, helped Kamal get an apartment in town. Kamal says it’s a “nice little apartment” and appreciates that there are families living nearby and he can hear children playing outside. Ryan also helped Kamal open a bank account, found a private grant to buy him a Chromebook so they can work on computer literacy, and paid for his lifetime membership for Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), an organization that provides social support, community, and legal assistance for veterans.
Ben, the Healthcare Navigator at SSVF and a combat veteran himself, has been helping Kamal receive the benefits he is due from the VA. Negotiating with the VA can take years, but within a few months Ben worked with a local Veteran Service Organization (VSO) and helped Kamal prove that many of his injuries are service-connected, meaning the VA covers the cost, provides treatment, and provides Kamal monthly financial help. With Ben’s expertise, Kamal increased his service-connected benefits from 10% to 60%, which is enough income to keep an apartment, buy food, and make a plan for the future.
This means that for the first time in 40 years, the VA is paying Kamal what it owes him as a veteran, providing not just finances but a sense of justice, righting a wrong that is decades old.
With his newfound stability and support from Ryan and Ben, Kamal says he is “learning to relax” and enjoy himself. He also looks forward to volunteering time and helping others. Kamal hopes to mentor young men someday and give them guidance as they strike out on their own, drawing on the wisdom he’s gathered in his own life. Yvonne, the Program Manager of SSVF, says the program encourages clients to find ways to help others: “This program puts people in a position to give back.”
At Catholic Social Services, we are honored to serve our country’s veterans. Thank you for helping us provide them with support, stability, and justice. When you give to CSS, you help veterans like Kamal receive the recognition they deserve and lead lives of dignity and pride.
As we remember those who lost their lives this Memorial Day, we encourage you to reach out to any veterans you know. A small act of kindness can go a long way, especially on a day as solemn as this.