by Ken Smith
Since our nations founding, America’s Veterans have fought for our liberties contained within our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Not all men (and woman) are created equal however, nor do all Americans have freedom of speech. Homeless Veterans are not equal and certainly do not have freedom of speech, the kind of freedom of speech that modern technology provides to you and me everyday.
Communication is at the core of every American citizens ability to strive and survive. It is the method by which our society exchanges information and provides for the coordination of services, especially employment and health care that separates us from other societies. Imagine a nation where the ability to communicate was denied to a significant segment of their population, especially a segment that had fought and died to provide freedoms to that society because of their economic status. Well, you do not have to imagine that scenario because it exists today among our nation’s homeless Veterans.
That’s why the “Veterans Workshop”a new national veterans nonprofit announced today the development of a community based program to provide “Limited use’ cell phones, under development with AT&T, to homeless Veterans so they can begin to travel the road back to full and equal citizenship with their fellow Americans. The Veterans Workshop plans to distribute cell phones, starting in 2012, with “find me” technology if lost and with battery charges to homeless veterans residing in shelters in the eastern United States as a demonstration project so that they might enjoy the same freedom of speech afforded to their non Veteran counterparts.
These cell phones – with limited calling range – will enable Homeless Veterans to stay in contact with their Department of Veterans Affairs Medical / Mental Health providers, as well as their local Police and Fire Departments in case of emergencies they experience on the street. And the workshops plan permits them to also have specific family/friends contacts numbers. Working with senior staff of AT&T, a special “Limited use” phone is being developed.
In addition, the workshop plans to coordinate this program in conjunction with both the Federal Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Labor (DOL), as well as State Veterans Services Offices.
For example, a homeless Veteran seeking employment will be able to coordinate with their local DOL Veteran Employment and Training Services (VETS) Officer to both make and receive calls to prospective employers and/or training sites. Homeless Veterans will be able to arrange for their special medical and mental health needs with their community based VET Centers, as well as VA staff/volunteers being able to call and ascertain a Veterans medical status and well being. The Department of Veterans Affairs has a new “National” homeless veterans hotline, but no way for a homeless veteran to call that toll free number, seeking assistance. This model will help to “surge” the large number of homeless veterans, estimated at over 350,000, into services that are provided by the VA.
As you can imagine, the possibilities of this program are extensive and worth a favorable review by all Americans and our government agencies.
The Veteran Workshop plans to seek both US Veteran Service Organizations (VSO’s), small and large not for profits anddditional corporate telecommunications leaders sponsorship of this program. The Veterans Workshop is not opposed to asking multi national corporations for their involvement in this worthwhile effort.
Veterans Advocate Bill Pittman, M.Ed. , Director of Special Programs for the “Veterans Workshop” and alum of Boston College will help launch this program in Washington DC with a homeless veteran calling his VA outpatient clinic coordinator in early 2012. Together with support and encouragement, all Americans can bring a voice to those who have given so much. Homeless veterans are asking for a voice because they are now -voiceless.
For further information and to find out how you can help please contact: Homeless Veterans Freedom of Speech Initiative at 202.695.8049
For more than twenty-five years Ken Smith has been a leading advocate for veterans. A combat Vietnam veteran, Ken served during 1971-72 as a paramedic and an infantry squad leader with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry, in the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. After his discharge, Ken continued his work as a paramedic in New England. On the streets of Boston he encountered growing numbers of homeless Vietnam veterans, and he became determined to both assist them and draw attention to their plight.
In 1989, Ken founded the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans, located in a former VA hospital at 17 Court Street in downtown Boston. One of the first facilities designed for homeless veterans and now a national model, the shelter has served over 35,000 of America’s veterans who, for whatever reason, find themselves living on the streets.
In 1992 Ken was awarded Point of Light #142 by President George H. W. Bush, and later that same year received the AMVETS Silver Helmet Award, considered the “Oscar” for American veterans. As one of America’s foremost veterans service organizations, AMVETS (or American Veterans) has a proud history of assisting veterans and sponsoring numerous programs that serve our country and its citizens. Ken was awarded this honor along with Peter Coors, with whom he still maintains a personal friendship.
Over the years Ken has appeared on many national media programs including Good Morning America, Prime Time Live, ABC News, CBS News, Larry King Live, CNN, 60 Minutes, and The Geraldo Show. He has been quoted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, and numerous international newspapers, magazines, and websites. In 1992, Ken had the distinction of addressing both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions as a keynote speaker on the subject of veterans.
Ken recently left his last assignment with the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation, where he was the chief technology architect of the Veteran’s Vocational Technical Institute, Purple Heart Car Donation program, Purple Heart Call Center, Purple Heart Radio, Purple Heart Tech Support, Purple Heart Services, and over thirty new Purple Heart websites. Ken Smith provided the vision and has overseen the implementation of innovative, virtual, work-at-home training programs for veterans with combat disabilities. Ken has designed, upgraded, and supervised the integration and installation of Purple Heart Service Foundations computer and telephony systems, upgrading features from legacy POTS phones to SIP-trunked communications systems including establishing new VPN networks for teams of remote virtual employees.
An adventure sports enthusiast, Ken enjoys extreme skiing, competitive sailing, flying, and travel. He has traveled extensively worldwide, delivering his positive message to the veterans of other countries that a paraplegic veteran of the United States suffers the same as a paraplegic veteran of India; that an amputee veteran of Nepal suffers as much as an amputee veteran of France. Ken’s mentor was Harold Russell, the two-time Academy Award winner who starred in the 1946 film Best Years of Our Lives. A World War II veteran, on D-Day, June 6th, 1944, Harold lost both of his hands. This ghastly misfortune did not stop him, and he went on to become the chairman of the President’s Committee for People with Disabilities. For over fifty years he served US presidents from Truman to Clinton. Ken was humbled and grateful when Harold agreed to serve as the best man at Ken’s wedding.
Ken has been instrumental in the planning stages for the Veterans Workshop, a new nationwide veterans’ advocacy group building a new “Veterans Hotline, and the development of special programs for those who have lost their sight or their hearing, or who have suffered spinal cord injury, as a result of their military experience. The Veterans Workshop provides a forum where new technology and advancements in the fields of prosthetic and orthotic solutions, many designed by Ken, are shared along with virtual training and employment programs.
A 1970 graduate of De La Salle Academy in Newport, Rhode Island, for the past twenty-five years Ken has continued his education with extensive college courses in computer technology and related social service fields. He resides in his native state of Rhode Island with his wife and children.