With the government officially observing the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War this week, NY1's Jeanine Ramirez takes a look at a Brooklyn group created to advocate for returning veterans of that war, Black Veterans for Social Justice.
Wendy McClinton points to a painting of women veterans. It's a group she's connected to not only because her job is to help those who served, but also because she's a veteran.
"I transitioned out of the military with three children under the age of 5, and when I got to New York, I was homeless. The only service I was able to access was unemployment," McClinton said.
With the help of the nonprofit group Black Veterans for Social Justice, McClinton found a job, a home and a mission: to help veterans like herself. Now, she's the president of the organization that assisted 10,000 people last year with a variety of social services.
"It can't be one fit for all because everybody doesn't fit. So we have to tailor the needs of each veteran," McClinton said.
The group was created 37 years ago by an Army veteran from Brooklyn, Job Mashariki.
"At that particular time, the VA didn't recognize Agent Orange. They didn't recognize the substance abuse that veterans were exposed to in Vietnam," Mashariki said.
Black Veterans for Social Justice set out to advocate for them. Masharik's initial focus was fellow black veterans in central Brooklyn, but the group helps any veteran in need.
"We understood the homeless problem before the city even recognized the homeless problem because people would come in and spend the night with us in our storefront location," Mashariki said.
The organization grew out of its Fort Greene storefront and moved its headquarters to Bedford-Stuyvesant in 2001. The building serves as a food pantry and as an office for more than 100 staffers. The group manages several apartment complexes for veterans.
Even with all its programs, the workers here say there's still a lot of outreach to be done.
"A lot of times, we have to go out and hit the streets because a lot of veterans are in the streets, in the parks and different things like that," said Tyrone Williams, the COO for Black Veterans for Social Justice.
And there's the constant advocacy work on the government level. The push to help military members transition seamlessly to civilian life is a recurring battle.