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SC, NC Offer Respite For Homeless Female Veterans

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File photo of a female soldier in training at the U.S. Naval Academy.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

File photo of a female soldier in training at the U.S. Naval Academy. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (CBS Charlotte/AP) — Roberta Lockwood and Judy New manage transitional programs that help homeless and unemployed female military veterans get back on their feet, a process they both say is lengthy and difficult.

“Everyone says they want to hire a veteran, but they want to hire a GI Jane who doesn’t have any problems,” says Lockwood. “They want to hire the perfect veteran, and that’s a hard thing to find.”

Lockwood is the program director at Angel’s House, a transitional program established with the support of the nonprofit Lutheran Family Services and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Lockwood has space for six women in a home built outside Columbia. New runs Faith Farm, a similar program in Gastonia, N.C., that houses seven.

“It’s hair-raising what some of these women have been through,” said New, a 12-year Air Force veteran. “It’s about time that someone pays attention.”

Across the country, the number of homeless female veterans like Ball has more than doubled during the past decade from 1,380 to 3,328, according to a December report by the U.S. government Accountability Office. The VA estimates there are about 1.8 million female veterans in the country, or about 8 percent of the national population of 22 million veterans.

Whether struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, disabilities, health ailments, escaping abusive relationships or problems holding a job, Lockwood said the programs offer a lifeline to many who’ve run out of options.

The programs offer services like housing, help preparing a resume and training for a job search, and some transportation as they get established. The goal is full-time work and housing accessible to public transit if they can’t afford a vehicle.

“They come to us without a job, a car, no place to live,” said Lockwood, 60, who retired from the Army as a master sergeant and is well acquainted with the rigors of military life and the transitions to a civilian world.

“We tell them that if they give 100 percent, we will give 150 percent,” Lockwood said, saying her time serving as a drill sergeant at nearby Fort Jackson has given her a keen sense of “picking out the bull” from the truth among her charges.

Both women say they have to run a tight ship, requiring all women to be in by a predetermined curfew depending on their work or school schedules. They must remain drug- and alcohol-free and work at improving their situations. All candidates are referred to the program by the VA and given assistance to continue any counseling or medical treatment.

Lockwood said she works with the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce and a local computer-assistance program known as “Fast Forward,” which offers computers to help the women learn job skills and find work.

“I took a leap of faith, and I was able to find Angel’s House,” said Brenda Lee Ball, 51, working on a job search at the computer center under Lockwood’s tutelage. “My dream job would be finding something in customer service, or working as an administrative assistant.”

Ball, a former Air Force mechanic who worked on F-16 jets in Texas and California, said she escaped an abusive relationship and was lucky to find the program. She has used her months in it to improve her computer skills and search for work.

New said there have been 15 successful graduates from Faith Farm in the three years it has been open, out of 18 candidates. Lockwood said she’s had 35 come through Angel’s House and finds she’s been able to achieve what she calls a 65 percent to 75 percent success rate.

That means finding full-time employment, enough wages to put $400 a month toward rent and life without drugs or alcohol.

“With the abuse many of these women have suffered, the addictions, the homelessness, it can be a vicious cycle,” New said. “But I tell them, if they want to succeed, they will. And we can help them.”

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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