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Grants boost services for East Texas veterans

Longview News-Journal - 9/17/2017

Air Force veteran Jeff Vance needed updates to his Union Grove home, from foundation leveling to doorways and ramps that could accommodate his wheelchair.

But he said he had run out of options to cover the estimated $14,000 in repairs - until Longview Habitat for Humanity paid more than 90 percent of the cost several months ago through its veterans housing program.

"We paid 8 percent of cost, and that was all I paid," Vance said, adding that the agency hired a contractor to fix cracks in walls, replace five doors and level the house, among other repairs.

"The crew was great. They were on time," he said.

More veterans in Gregg, Harrison and Upshur counties will benefit from Habitat's veterans program after it was one of two Longview agencies to receive a total $400,000 in grants from the Texas Veterans Commission.

The nonprofit commission recognized Longview's Habitat and Community HealthCore this past week with a dual check presentation.

Community HealthCore received $300,000 for general assistance and veterans' mental health checks, while Habitat was awarded $100,000 in a Housing for Texas Heroes grant.

Stanley Williams, managing director of Community Healthcore, called the grants an additional boost to his agency's programs, adding the money will fill gaps in funding for its veterans mental health programs.

"We're always looking for dollars right from Austin, but what's interesting about the Texas Veterans Commission is that it's all donated dollars," Williams said. "It's amazing."

The Rev. Richard A. McLeon IV, vice chairman of the Texas Veterans Commission, was in Longview for the grant presentations.

"We do it to help veterans, pure and simple," McLeon said of the commission's purpose.

"You've got a population that put their life on the line for this country. They earned the benefits; they were promised benefits," he said. "A veteran by nature won't ask for those benefits - just won't do it - so with the Texas Veterans Commission through our grant program, we collect funds from the people of Texas ? that we then repackage and award to these local organizations that serve the needs of veterans that aren't served through normal programs."

The grants were awarded through a competitive process, according to the commission.

Habitat for Humanity Executive Director LaJuan Hollis said the Texas Veterans Commission has shed light on the needs of veterans in East Texas and across the country.

"We are extremely excited. This is going to explode our veterans program and allow us to help people not only in Longview but all of Gregg County, Harrison County and Upshur County," Hollis said, "and since there is never a shortage of those that need safety and seek shelter, we've already got waiting lists, so we're just ready to start doing some work."

In July, Longview Habitat for Humanity expanded the veterans home repair program, which focuses on issues that threaten the health or safety of the home's occupants. Cosmetic repairs are not eligible for the program.

Call (903) 236-0900. ext. 201, or visit the Longview Habitat office at 905 McCann Road for information on how to apply for the veterans repair program.

Vance expressed appreciation to Habitat for Humanity, the donors and work crews who repaired his home and the Texas Veterans Commission for the funding to help other vets.

"They need the money to do what they did for me for somebody else," Vance said. "It cost me $1,100 for them to do $14,000 worth of work. ... We probably would have had to go somewhere to get a loan to fix it, but I couldn't afford the payments."

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