Late in 2015, Soldiers with the U.S. Army Human Resources Command, located on Fort Knox, Kentucky, were looking for a way to help someone ... anyone.
That's when LaAnna Mraz, HRC executive assistant, and husband Jerry stepped in. With hundreds of homeless Veterans right here in the Louisville metro area, how could they not?
"We talked to the VA and asked them what we could do to help," LaAnna said. "They told us about the Homeless Veterans program so we went and bought some big buckets and set them up at the entrances (of the Lt. Gen. Timothy J. Maude Complex, HRC headquarters) to accept donations."
On Monday, Soldiers assigned to HRC, led by Maj. Gen. Jason T. Evans, HRC commanding general, and Command Sgt. Maj. Wardell Jefferson, HRC command sergeant major, delivered their third shipment of basic household goods to the VA Healthcare Center.
Two vans and a pick-up truck, loaded with items ranging from dish towels to vacuum cleaners, made their way down Highway 31W from Fort Knox to Shively in Louisville to help Veterans transitioning from the street to a permanent residence.
"These types of things help Veterans do things in their own homes that many of us take for granted," said Martin Traxler, Robley Rex VA Medical Center director, who served with the Marine Corps before coming to work for the VA.
"Things like making their bed every morning, washing their own clothes, sweeping their own floors - some of these folks have spent not only a few months, but in some cases a few years, homeless, living in a tent. This is their chance to start to manage their own lives again.
"It affects them from not only an emotional perspective, but also health wise because now they're more likely to see a doctor regularly or watch what they eat," said Traxler.
"Encouraging them by giving them something like a vacuum, can be the difference between maintaining a strong healthy life going forward and maybe having their lives ending at a way too early age," he added.
Nationally, the VA's Homeless Veterans initiative was launched in 2010 as a way to provide a hand-up to Veterans who may have become homeless due to financial difficulties, mental health issues, addiction, or chronic illness. Since that time, according to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 2016, Veterans' homelessness has decreased by 56 percent.
The Louisville area VA has been assisting Veterans with housing since 2008.
"Almost all of our Veterans move in with next to nothing. Our goal is to have Veterans have something to sit on, sleep on and eat on," said Jamie Watts, Healthcare for Homeless Veterans supervisory coordinator.
"We have Veterans in Louisville, Southern Indiana and four counties to the south including the Hardin County area. We have 475 vouchers (for housing) and right now we are close to being full," she said. "We can provide a house to these folks, but it's really not a home until they get the things like what you (HRC) provided today."
After getting Veterans into adequate housing, the VA works to get them healthcare and finally back to work through employment coordinators. The ultimate goal is getting them off the program and back into the community.
"We have folks that have come to us as homeless who are employees of the hospital now," Traxler said. "There are folks here today working that will tell you their story. They are serving Veterans to give back because someone at the VA, or maybe folks in a community partnership like ours with the Army, reached out to them and showed they cared."
"To be able to come here today and help people who need us and feel fulfilled by the job that we have: there's nothing like it," Traxler said. "I would have never thought that after I took off that Marine Corps uniform I would have ever had that feeling again. But I'm honored to feel it today and I'm grateful for it."