By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer
United Way 2-1-1’s Help 2 Veterans program services the more than 77,000 veterans in Cuyahoga County by connecting them and their families to social services and veteran-specific resources.
In its third year, the program has taken calls from 26,657 veterans or their family members through United Way 2-1-1, a free and confidential service providing 24-hour access to professionals who help clients find, understand and access community resources. The local United Way 2-1-1 serves 26 Ohio counties and covers 3.5 million people in the state, connecting them to social, economic and community services.
Tim Grealis, the Help 2 Veterans specialist, advocates for his fellow armed service members. Discharged from the U.S. Air Force in 1990, Grealis brings personal experience to the table, allowing him to have a one-on-one connection with clients.
Averaging 750 calls to Help 2 Veterans per month, clients are screened through 2-1-1 specialists, who, working through the person’s immediate needs, will escalate them to Grealis if they feel the client can benefit from veteran advocacy or further guidance.
“If the gas company needs called because we need to advocate a little for the vet, I can call the gas company on behalf of the vet,” he explained.
Funded through Cuyahoga County via the Veterans Service Commission, Help 2 Veterans allows Grealis to educate veterans on programs and services available to them — something he wishes he’d known when he was discharged.
“Prior to working for United Way, I was laid off for 18 months and didn’t know there were veteran-specific services that could help me find a job and do some other things,” he said. “That’s where my motivation comes from — I know how hard it was when I was laid off and the things I had to do to make ends meet.”
Within federal, state and community programs, there are services and funds set aside especially for veterans and their families, he said. These include housing and winter clothing vouchers, help with utilities and food.
Recently, 2-1-1 analyzed calls from the Help 2 Veterans line, to find the population’s highest needs, as well as trends by era of veterans requesting services. The population is divided by service era — peacetime, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War and current active or reserve members. Thirty-nine percent of callers are between the ages of 36 and 57 years old.
Close to 90 percent of the community’s needs are met for those connected to services through Help 2 Veterans. The highest needs for veterans in Cuyahoga County are education, employment and income; food; housing/shelter; health care and individual and family support.
No two calls are alike for Grealis, who fields veterans from WWII to active duty members. Many times, transportation is a big issue, deeply affecting those 75 and older. But, Grealis works to leverage his connections within other social services and convince vets to seek further help if needed.
“A lot of times it takes convincing for them to go to the Veteran’s Service Commission or back to Veteran’s Affairs,” he said. “Nobody ever says it’s easy, but nothing ever is. That’s some of the conversations I have — you’re a vet, boot camp wasn’t easy, your tour wasn’t easy, this is just one more obstacle in your life you just need to figure out and get done.”
If you need assistance, United Way 2-1-1 can help. Simply dial 2-1-1 or chat with us for assistance.