National president visits Cheney
American Legion Auxiliary leader Peggy Thomas speaks at dinner about homelessness, membership
National American Legion Auxiliary president Peggy Thomas (right) accepts a check for $100 for the Auxiliary’s Children of Warriors Program from Cheney Auxiliary chapter member Helen Boots (far left) during Thomas’ appearance in Cheney last Friday. Washington state Auxiliary president Hanny Elston is in the background.
For American Legion Auxiliary national president Peggy Thomas, taking care of U.S. military veterans boils down to one, simple fact.
“These are warriors,” Thomas said in an interview after her appearance at a dinner last Friday night at Cheney’s American Legion Hall. “We made them what they are. You can’t just forget about them.”
Thomas addressed a gathering of representatives from local American Legion and Auxiliary districts during a visit last week to Washington state. The 31-year member of the 800,000-plus women’s organization dedicated to supporting the main organization of American veterans told those in attendance there were several issues she had concerns about affecting the welfare of today’s veterans – namely homelessness and a shrinking membership in the Auxiliary.
Thomas wants to grow the Auxiliary as a means to make the organization more capable of helping veterans through financial means and as a lobbying body.
“If we approach Congress with a strong voice, they will listen to the voice that has the most clout,” the Virginia native said. Thomas hopes to double the size of the Auxiliary through a campaign where each current member brings in one new recruit.
Thomas also spoke of some of the problems faced by homeless veterans, particularly that of acceptance. She described a situation in Delaware where an organization bought four homes to be used as veterans shelters, but then backed out of the project because of neighborhood opposition, including from a local police officer who was himself a veteran but spoke up against the group at a town hall meeting.
“These people are our brothers and sisters,” Thomas said. “The least we can do is try to help.”
After the meeting Thomas said the best way to address homelessness among veterans is to coordinate assistance efforts, getting local officials to talk with representatives from veteran’s service organizations on finding usable housing. According to a 2011 report from the Veterans Affairs Association’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, 14 percent of the adult male homeless and 2 percent of adult females were veterans, although a 2012 report showed those numbers on a decline. Thomas sees more work to be done.
Many veterans have psychological problems, sometimes leading to suicide, something Thomas said happens every 65 minutes in this country. She also said many homeless women veterans won’t use existing social services, especially if they have children because they fear being separated.
“I’ve met women who will sleep in a car before going to a homeless shelter,” she added.
There are resources out there for homeless veterans, she said, such as housing vouchers through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The key is to get the information to veterans and then convince them to take advantage of those resources.
“Some won’t and we just have to keep trying, but others will stay,” she said.
As for recruiting, Thomas sees it as vital for the Auxiliary’s ability to remain a viable resource. The Auxiliary supports many programs that help youth as well as adults such as Boys and Girls State, Operation Military Kids and the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.
Thomas thinks her call to have each Auxiliary member bring a new recruit into the organization is attainable. While some may not be able to bring any, others will bring in multiple members, she said.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.