Renewing Pierce County’s Commitment to Veterans

Renewing Pierce County’s Commitment to Veterans

– Derek Young, Pierce County Council

As home to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and located close to military installations around Puget Sound, Pierce County has one of the largest concentrations of veterans in the country.

We’re grateful for those who served and are proud to have them as valuable employees, leaders, and members of our community. But we also know that veterans experiencing the physical and mental scars of war often have needs that we haven’t met.

Over the last few years, we’ve made improvements to serve our veteran population better. We recently overhauled Pierce County’s Veterans Bureau and started a Veterans Treatment docket in our Superior Court. We partnered with WestCare and the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs to open the Betsy Ross Hall, providing transitional housing for female veterans experiencing homelessness.

Unfortunately, our policies have also fallen short of our rhetoric. As our region’s growth strains access to affordable housing, we’ve seen the number of veterans experiencing homelessness explode. Pierce County’s suicide rate is unacceptably high — almost double the national average — in part due to the number of veterans who have succumbed to the ongoing trauma of combat.

We must do more.

Recently, we convened a task force to develop a strategy to ensure housing is available to every veteran in Pierce County. I’m recommending that we use a portion of the low-income housing funds appropriated by the Legislature this year to pay for it.

While access to housing is a step in the right direction, we also must fund wraparound support services to treat the underlying causes of their crisis. We need to expand the veterans’ docket in Superior Court and add it to District Court.

We can fund these vital services, but it will require elected leaders to step up. That’s one reason I continue to urge my Council colleagues to pass the .01% for behavioral health sales tax. Additionally, our Veterans Relief levy now stands at just 1.3 cents per $1000 in valuation — only barely more than the state-mandated minimum. We should approve more through the upcoming budget.

As we thank those who served our country, let’s make sure they don’t have to struggle to find the services they need.