tampabay.com

Ex-Marine forms group to help injured troops

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 29, 2007


HOMESTEAD - A former Marine is developing a program to offer temporary housing and grocery money to injured troops when they leave their military service, fearing that disabled veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will be forgotten once Memorial Day celebrations end.

Staff Sgt. Tommy Pearce, 29, was evacuated from Camp Fallujah in Iraq in September. He watched his bank account dip to $25 as red tape delayed his disability checks.

Pearce hopes his new group, One Vet Ahead, will help other veterans avoid the same difficulty.

"I was used to getting a paycheck on the first and 15th every month, " said Pearce, who now lives in Homestead. "When that lifeline gets cut, you don't know what to do and you don't know who to lean on."

Florida is home to 1.8-million veterans, more than any other state except California; an estimated 18, 000 to 20, 000 Florida veterans are homeless.

The Veterans Affairs Department, the Small Business Administration and various private groups try to help veterans get jobs, counseling and rehabilitation. But many vets say navigating the bureaucratic maze can be daunting.

Charles Cutler, the chief executive of Veterans Employment Transition Services in Miami, wants to create a one-stop outreach center for all veteran-related information.