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Sep 16, 2012 3:21 PM

USA Cares Seeing Increase In Aid Requests

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A Kentucky-based organization that provides financial aid to veterans is seeing a spike in the number of requests as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down.

Officials at Radcliff-based USA Cares told The Courier-Journal that it is now getting about 250 requests weekly, up from 150 calls it used to average each week. Since 2003, USA Cares has provided about $9 million to 9,000 service members and vets.

The organization is one of several donor-funded nonprofits that try to fill gaps for veterans stuck between government programs. Many have returned to find a backlog of Veterans Administration claims and high unemployment rates.

Officials at USA Cares say they expect requests for the year to reach nearly 10,000, which is about 3,000 more than average.

Program director Jennifer Robinson said 475 requests are expected to come from Kentucky, and about one-third usually qualify.

"I've seen a tremendous uptick - but it's not just in Afghanistan. We're reducing the size of our troop strength. So I think we'll see an even greater demand for these services," said Robinson.

Returning veterans can face a myriad of financial problems as they readjust to civilian life, said Bill Roby, the incoming chairman of the group.

"The Department of Defense is doing what it can," he said. "But there are a lot of veterans slipping through the cracks."

USA Cares steps in to help when there are problems related to a soldier's service, such as when national guard soldiers return to find their jobs eliminated or discharged soldiers are waiting for decisions on disability claims.

Craig Grainger, a 29-year-old honorably discharged Marine living in Frankfort, Ky., received help when his car broke down and he couldn't afford to fix it so he could attend post-traumatic stress counseling treatments at the Lexington VA hospital. USA Cares paid $750 for car repairs so Grainger could make his appointments.

"I don't like to ask for help," he said, noting that his family struggles to get by on his $1,600 monthly disability check, "but you just don't come home and get right back to life."

Meanwhile, contributions to the organization are decreasing. Roby said he thinks the decline is due to the economy and waning media attention on Afghanistan.

"Donations are falling off across the country for military aid organizations like us, because it's not on the front page," he said.

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