Operation Homefront opens local office to serve veterans

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It’s just a little office suite in a Forest Hills industrial park. But for the Operation Homefront team -- and the veterans they serve -- the new Pittsburgh office is a game changer. 

"This is a huge step forward for us in this area,“ said Pete Stinson, the nonprofit’s regional executive director, before cutting the ribbon Thursday at the new headquarters. 

Operation Homefront was formed in 2002 to help the families of deployed military service members. Since then its core mission has expanded to provide emergency financial assistance to any disabled post-9/11 veteran whose rank does not exceed that of a staff sergeant. 

Mr. Stinson said he aims to prevent the ”snowball effect“ of compounding financial problems.

“For example, the veteran has a single-car household,“ Mr. Stinson said. “Husband and wife. The car needs to be repaired. If the car doesn’t run, there’s a good chance they won’t get to work.”

Bob McGowan, a Marine Corps veteran who volunteers as a regional board member, said the average financial aid is $500, often enough to get a family back on its feet. Sometimes, the case worker just asks the veteran to hand over his or her past-due bills and will cut checks directly to those companies.  

Richard Brown said that when he was deployed in the Navy and finances were tight, Operation Homefront provided his wife with donations for a baby shower. Now Mr. Brown volunteers as the organization’s Allegheny County coordinator.

Mr. Brown said that having a Pittsburgh office allows the organization to store non-monetary donations until they’re needed. The office is already stacked with boxes of new furniture donated by Wal-Mart.

In addition, the office will ensure that donated money stays in Allegheny County.

"A lot of the organizations [that donate] wanted the money to be earmarked for the local area,” Mr. Brown said. “Now we have an address here.”

Mr. McGowan said a regional office is especially important since Western Pennsylvania is full of veterans but lacks the large active duty military bases of states such as North Carolina or Texas. For the spouses of deployed National Guard or reserve troops, the organization may be one of the few resources available.

The office’s rent for the year -- $5,000-- was paid for by the Jack Buncher Foundation, named for the local land developer who gave his fortune to charity before his death in 2001.

Veterans who need assistance should call (800) 779-5892. 

Also, local veterans be advised: Saturday, Community College of Allegheny County will hold a Veterans Symposium, providing information about entrepreneurship, employment, health benefits, mental health, education and legal issues. Also in attendance will be companies who are seeking veterans as employees. The event is free and is held at the Allegheny Campus. Pre-register by calling 412-350-6109.

Brett Sholtis: bsholtis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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