For over forty five years, our goal at Veterans First has been to honor every brave man or woman who has served this country by helping to restore dignity to those whose sacrifices defending the freedoms we cherish have left them in need. Every person who raises their hand and takes a pledge to defend our country is a hero. Until there are no American heroes sleeping in the streets, in cars or in alleyways, we will be there for them just as they were there for all of us.
Who We Are
Veterans First is the only 501c(3) agency in Orange County that works to provide services exclusively to our region’s homeless and at-risk veterans. Our organization provides a multitude of services including housing, meals, life coaching counseling, life skills, access to mental health counseling, benefit counseling, transportation, as well as job training and employment placement assistance. Veterans First works with many regional and national organizations such as the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans (NCHV), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), the American Legion, Elks Club, AMVETS, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Wounded Warrior Battalion – MCB Camp Pendleton, Soldiers Project and the Orange County Continuum of Care.
One of Veterans First’s founding beliefs is that the most effective way to assist the veterans in our program is a “Veterans helping Veterans” strategy. Through this model, we place our incoming vets within a structured, substance-free environment with those vets who are on the successful track of turning their lives around.
Additionally in 2011, Veterans First was instrumental in assembling a coalition of community groups, private industry along with federal, state and local government agencies to establish Orange County’s first Annual Stand Down event to assist homeless and at-risk veterans. During the two-day event, over 150 veterans and their family members were able to receive essential services. For its commitment to helping our veterans through the Stand Down, Veterans First was recognized by many of Orange County’s local official at the federal, state and county levels.
The Forgotten Men & Women
Approximately one-third of our nation’s adult homeless population has served in the United States Armed Forces, while many others who have served and their families are considered to be low-income and live in substandard conditions. Many of these homeless and at risk veterans live with the lingering effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from their service in a combat theater in addition to physical disabilities from service, mental health and substance abuse problems.
According to the United States Veterans Administration (VA), there are more than 107,000 homeless veterans on any given night nationwide with twice that number experiencing some form of homelessness over the course of the year. Specifically, Orange County has approximately 3,500 homeless veterans within its borders. While many homeless veterans are from the Vietnam era, we are seeing a growing number of Desert Storm and recent Iraq and Afghanistan veterans accessing our program, many of whom are families.
Unfortunately, the VA does not have the resources to assist all of our veterans in need. Thus, the VA partners with community-based organizations such as Veterans First to fill their backlog and assist our veterans with the much needed services that our brave men and women have rightfully earned.