By John Howell, Jr, DailyTarHeel.com
January 8, 2013
Hundreds of N.C. veterans will soon receive counseling, education, housing and job training with the renovation of a facility located just north of Durham.
State leaders, including Gov. Pat McCrory, say the center will assist the state’s rising number of homeless veterans.
The Veterans Administration Medical Centers in N.C. treated 1,118 homeless veterans in 2009, a number that has been steadily increasing — an estimated 6,000 veterans sought assistance in 2012.
In his first public event as governor, McCrory was the keynote speaker at a fundraising dinner on Saturday for the eight-building complex in Butner.
The event was hosted by the Veterans Leadership Council of North Carolina, a nonprofit organization founded by veterans.
The Butner Veterans Life Center Campus will total 237,000 square feet and accommodate 400 homeless veterans. Renovations will cost $6 million.
The center will open its doors in six months and is expected to reach full capacity in 2015.
Jeff Smith, finance director for the council, said Saturday’s event raised an estimated $225,000 from donors.
McCrory discussed his grandfather’s record in World War I and the physical and mental scars of wartime service.
He also invited Vietnam War veterans at the event to stand when he mentioned a cousin who, like many of them, wasn’t welcomed home with open arms.
“Let’s learn from our mistakes and how we treated the Vietnam veterans,” he said.
Smith said the renovated facility will offer living quarters, behavioral and mental health counseling, job training and post-secondary education opportunities.
“This is our last chance to save them before they wind up spending their life on the streets,” he said.
Veterans also have the opportunity to receive treatment from state alcohol and drug addiction centers.
John Swart, State Command Sgt. Maj. for the N.C. National Guard, said the center has the potential to help a lot of veterans in need, but that it was too soon to judge its effectiveness.
“The proof is in the pudding,” he said.
McCrory expressed his continued support for the efforts of the council and the new facility in Butner.
“There are heroes right now coming home that will be scarred and need help,” he said.
He stressed the importance of the veteran population in the future of the state.
“Let’s get these people jobs and use them in our economic development.”
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