Monique Brown
Monique Brown Courtesy of the author

I’m voting yes on King County Proposition 1 - Veterans, Seniors, & Human Services Levy because it helps get veterans, seniors, survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, and others at risk of severe poverty get back on their feet and onto a path towards self-sufficiency. I know this levy works because it helped me.

I joined the U.S. Army in 1987—in my fourth year of Junior College—in order to figure out what to do with my life. While I didn’t know it at the time, military service would come to define my professional career. A three-year stint in the Army turned into a five-year run in the reserves, which turned into a decade with the National Guard. Then, as I was considering re-entering civilian life, I received an offer to re-enlist in the Army without losing my rank.

At that point, I had spent so much of my life in the military and I truly missed wearing the uniform on a daily basis; It just made sense to stay. Four months later, I found myself on a plane to Iraq in what would become a 15-month tour. During my second tour in 2009 -2010, I began to have health issues and three years later, my military career would come to an early end.

I was medically retired in 2013. However, when I got out, I was not ready. I was lost without my brothers and sisters. I suffered from depression and anxiety. Eventually, I had a breakdown. For a whole week, I cried. I didn’t know why and I couldn’t stop.

Unlike so many veterans, I was lucky enough to see that I needed help, so I called the Veterans Crisis Line. They set me up with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and through an efficient, coordinated case management process, helped diagnose my Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

Reaching out to the Crisis Line was a needed first step towards a healthy transition into civilian life for me, it allowed me to move forward with getting back on my feet; the next step was to get a job.

I had spent decades living, breathing, and working in the military. I didn’t know how to translate my experience into relevant skills in the civilian world. So I went to the King County Veterans Program—a levy funded program—and they were able to help me put together a résumé. This is a vital service for veterans who spend their lives in the armed services— learning new ways to talk about and apply the skills learned in combat and service making it relevant to future employers. Too many veterans—who on the whole are suffering greater rates and severity of poverty than ever before—cannot access the help they need. At $2.33/month more for the average homeowner, renewing Prop. 1 will go a long way to ensure that services reach the people who need them the most.

Today, I’m the Veterans Outreach Specialist at El Centro de La Raza, and it is my job to conduct enhanced outreach to women veterans and veterans of color. That means I’m in tent cities and under freeways finding veterans who are the most in need, and bringing them in for healthcare, housing and employment services. This program, I am fortunate to help run is funded solely by the existing levy, and is one of the very few going out into the streets to locate and bring veterans who would otherwise not seek help on their own in to get the help they need.

Since 2012, the levy has served nearly 35,000 King County residents each year. For about eight cents more a day for the typical homeowner, the levy provides vital services like job training, employment opportunities, and housing stability to veterans, seniors, domestic violence survivors, and more. The levy extends existing efforts that have proven effective in reducing unemployment, homelessness, and emergency medical costs.

When I started helping veterans, my anxiety and depression began to fade. My focus on other veterans helped me to heal. But more importantly, my job means my brothers and sisters can get the help they need to get out of homelessness, become healthy and housed, and live productive lives.

Voting yes on Prop. 1 will not solve the homelessness crisis. However, people are dying, and we cannot reach everyone with what we have. If the levy fails, many more will suffer. Thank you for voting Yes on Prop. 1.

Monique Brown, a U.S. Army veteran, currently serves as Veterans Outreach Specialist at El Centro de La Raza.