by Ken Smith
I know people who work at HUD, one of the largest federal agencies in the country. HUD of course deals in housing, but also in homelessness. Most of the folks I keep in touch with there are veterans and recently I got a call from one career employee who asked me to look into the office of HUDVET at CPD (Community Planning and Development) .
First, let me tell you a story. Once a long time ago, Andrew Cuomo, who is now the governor of New York, was the Secretary of HUD and at that time, in the 1990’s, I was operating a homeless veteran’s shelter in Boston and was active as an advocate to federal agencies that were ignoring the homeless veteran’s issue, HUD being one.
I requested and I was granted a personal appointment with Andrew Cuomo while he was HUD Secretary, only after Joe Kennedy who at the time was his brother in law and a congressman, got me in the front door as a favor.
The actions as a result of that meeting with Andrew Cuomo are what every politician should aspire to achive. He was attentive, he listened to the concerns, he asked pointed questions and then he took action. REAL action. He tasked his Community Planning and Development office (CPD) to integrate into that department, a new staff position and he called it HUDVET.
The reason Andrew Cuomo took that action was at the time, one third of all the homeless in the United States were veterans. ONE THIRD!!
It seems to me now, that not much has changed, as that is still the accepted percentage that I see on the VA’s homeless veteran’s page.
At the time, Andrew Cuomo had this crackerjack lady running HUDVET within CPD (Jackie Lawing, now Jackie Lawing Ebert) who was “Deputy Assistant Secretary for Homelessness and Special Needs Programs” and she was all business and no bullshit.
The office of HUDVET was created by Comeo after his meeting with veteran advocates like myself who were concerned that HUD, which controls most of the homeless money, was not paying attention, nor was it funding homeless veterans programs.
I happen to know personally, the very first veteran who was placed into the HUDVET position by Cuomo.
His name was Bill Pitman
Bill Pitman was the 1st HUDVET and his legislative accomplishments are still working today.
- The inter-agency committee work with DOD, DOL and DVA are his work.
- The language of HUD’s legislative work on behalf of veterans who are homeless is his work.
- Recognizing the impact that HUD has on the homeless veterans of this country and the outreach to the VSO’s is his work.
- The annual “Memorial Day” ceremony at HUD HQ, where the Secretary remembers why he or she does what they do, on behalf of America’s Veterans is his work.
Anyone can see the fruits of Pitman’s labors from 15 years ago by doing a search on Google.
So, just out of curiosity and prompted by a veteran from HUD, I went online recently to lookup and find the latest actions of the HUDVET.
What I found disgusted me.
Here are the findings on just the major social media sites I visited looking for Hud Vet:
Not one thing has changed on the HUDVET home page in 10 years.
- When I searched YouTube I found: No video results for “HUDVET” NONE
- When I searched twitter I found: No Tweet results for “HUDVET” NONE
- When I searched Facebook I found: “The page you requested was not found”
- When I searched Linkedin I found: “The page you requested was not found”
Assistant Secretary Mercedes M. Márquez, who is a nice lady by the way, and a true friend of the American veteran from what I have been told should be ashamed of herself. Secretary Donovan himself personally should take charge of HUDVET immediately. He needs to get the office refocused into the work of helping and supporting American veterans. Donovan should use the office of HUDVET the same way Cuomo did when he held the job of Secretary of HUD or he should shut it down. We are a week from Veterans Day Mr. Secretary.
The boyish-looking Donovan is bullish on creating sustainable communities where residents can walk or use public transit on their way to work or shopping. As former housing commissioner of New York City, where he was born, he says he wants to put the “UD” back into HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
He needs to put the VET back into HUDVET or take his name off the sign.
He is an architect by trade and he needs to apply those same skills to the needed rehab of this part of his agency that is an embarrassment to him and to the veterans who work for him.
Ask any American Veteran homeowner, or Homeless veteran advocate anywhere in the country who the “HUDVET” is, or what the office does, and you will find what I have found.
I am sending a letter to Secretary Donovan asking him why HUD still counts “Veterans Disability Compensation” as income? The IRS doesn’t, the VA doesn’t, and yet, HUD does, and so, when a disabled veteran applies for senior and or disability housing, his VA disability compensation is counted against him. WHY?
Mr Secretary, you need to roll up your sleeves and take no excuses or promises to get this right. You need to do it yourself.
You need to do it yourself because of your personal family military history and that of your wife’s family military history.
Do it in their name. The name of your relatives who served in the military and who have sacrificed so that you could aspire and then be confirmed into your current position.
Do it because it’s the right thing to do.
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.