New job center focusing on vets

Navy veteran William Sutton stands in front of his office, Veterans of Valo, in the Northside Station Shopping Center in Winchester. Sutton's office will provide vocational training and counseling for area transient veterans. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER — When William Sutton was discharged from the U.S. Navy in 2006, he found the civilian world was a huge, different place.

“The main thing you have in the military is structure and when I got out [of] there, I didn’t have it,”

he said. “It was tough adjusting to conducting how people do things in the civilian world.”

But Sutton was able to make the transition, leading a fruitful career and raising a loving family. However, some veterans are not so lucky and end up becoming homeless. That is why in 2013, Sutton founded The Veterans for Valor Foundation, which will open a center to provide vocational training and counseling for transient veterans on Veterans Day.

Sutton said the exact scope of the homeless veterans problem is hard to determine.

“We don’t have any figures on it because nobody has been keeping count,” Sutton said. “A lot of homeless veterans are not going to admit they’re veterans, either.”

According to Sutton, many homeless veterans are too proud to admit their troubles.

“A lot of military veterans aren’t going to come and say ‘I’m struggling’ or ‘I need help,'” Sutton said. “One thing we’re taught is you deal with the punches given to you and continue moving.”

The center, located on 812 N. Loudoun St. in Winchester, will offer programs in drywall installation, painting and project management for homeless veterans free of charge with a referral from the Veteran’s Administration.

“The project management program comes from my belief, as well as what I learned in the military, that you don’t have [to] work for somebody else, but you can work for yourself,” Sutton said. “I believe teaching entrepreneurship to these guys is important.”

The center will also help veterans who already have skills but are looking for work. Instructors will help veterans with resume writing and mock interviews, as well as connect them with employment agencies such NW Works.

Sutton said searching for a job is daunting for those who first get out of the military.

“I know when I first got out, if you were to ask me how to write a resume, I couldn’t,” Sutton said. “It was hard getting into that frame of mind for interviews, too. So we’re trying to teach veterans how to do it.”

The center will provide a host of counseling services, from career advancement to alcohol and drug abuse.  Sutton said getting homeless veterans back on their feet is a case-by-case scenario.

“Some guys, you got to give them a little push, others, you got to be there for them 24/7,” Sutton said. “I want to be able to provide services for all types of cases.”

Currently Sutton, along with some other donors, are paying out-of-pocket for the center. However, Sutton said he hopes to build partnerships with local trade schools, employers and Realtors to provide housing and a livelihood for homeless vets.

“It takes a community to help these guys out and so far, we have about seven companies who have come forward and offered to help with training and job placement,” Sutton said.

According to Sutton, while the government programs such the Support Services for Veteran Families do help veterans find housing, they lack in other areas of service.

“They believe that’s automatically going to encourage them to get a job,” Sutton said. “If you just got an apartment after being on the street for a year and a half, it’s going to take a while to get acclimated. We hope to offer vets a way to readjust to the job market.”

Sutton said he hopes The Veterans for Valor Foundation will help relieve some of the pressure put on the local VA centers.

“They got backlogs everywhere in the area,” Sutton said. “Down in Stephens City, they got one social worker taking care of cases all day.”

While Sutton said he ultimately wants to expand The Veterans of Valor Foundation to cover the Interstate 81 corridor from Hagerstown, Maryland, to Harrisonburg, he knows establishing it in Winchester will be a challenge.

“It’s all financial,” Sutton said, explaining that it’s difficult to get funding from the government or charities because there is no information on the number of homeless veterans in the area.

The Veterans of Valor Foundation Center will have an opening ceremony at 3 p.m. today.