Monday, December 21, 2009

NM Veterans' Integration Center will expand

From a news release

The New Mexico Veterans’ Integration Center (VIC) has received the first annual installment of a three -year, $1.6 million per-diem grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA).

The money will allow the center to expand to its planned 50-room capacity leased through an agreement with the Value Place Hotel on Central Avenue in Albuquerque. There are currently 31 rooms being leased.

“This grant is a tremendous Christmas gift for veterans in need,” New Mexico Department of Veterans’ Services Cabinet Secretary John M. Garcia said.

Garcia's department provides funding for the center and also helped apply for the grant.

“With the move to the new hotel, we are now taking the level of care for these veterans to another level,” Garcia said.

The NMDVS along with the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions assist with operating the VIC and to help the estimated 7,000 homeless veterans in New Mexico.

In addition to providing shelter, the VIC also provides counseling, employment assistance, and “life-skills” assistance to help residents re-integrate into society. Residents must sign up for a two-year residency and must adhere to a strict “zero-tolerance” policy concerning the use of drugs & alcohol.

'The Check's already in the bank'

The grant had been approved in August of 2008, but was withheld by the VA after an inspection of the original center by VA officials turned up numerous safety and health hazards. Improvements to fix these violations would have cost at least $500,000—money that the center or the state simply didn’t have, said VIC Board President Larry Campos of the NM Department of Workforce Solutions’ Veterans’ Employment and Training Center.

“We had raised these concerns before with our landlord--but he never acted on them,” Campos said. “So when we were successful in getting that grant, we had no choice but to move—which unfortunately meant a delay in receiving that Grant money.”

The VIC moved to the new location in August after its lease expired at the original location—the former Sundowner Lounge and Economy Motel five miles west of the new location on Central Avenue. And while the new modern location easily met all safety requirements according to the City code, it still needed a few adjustments to satisfy the strict VA requirements. Work on these minor additions is currently underway, which was enough to allow the release of the first installments of the grant. (amount of payments will be gradually released by VA).

“The check’s already in the bank,” Campos said. “We are going to do some great things here at the new VIC.”

The NMDVS also provides funding to assist homeless veterans in southern New Mexico, through the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope in Las Cruces.

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