City program helps vets turn the page

After two tours in Iraq, Albert Viray came home to California in 2008 and found his civilian life was a no-go.

Turned down for a security guard job he thought he had locked up, he then saw several other job applications go unanswered. Still wired for combat, Viray felt he was out of options in his native San Jose, so last year he moved in with a relative in Glendale.

Viray, 26, is now trying to turn the page with the help of a city program that provides a home, job training, counseling and other services to members of the military and their families. The Glendale Housing Authority is subsidizing his rent. He is taking classes at Los Angeles City College and is working part-time at the state Employment Development Department office on Central Avenue, helping other veterans look for work.

It’s a long way from Fallujah, where Viray was still a teenager when he and other members of the Army’s First Infantry Division engaged in tense block-to-block combat in 2003 and 2004.

“It was a total mind change for me, from marching and kicking doors in Iraq to civilian life, where everyone is calm and mellow,” Viray said. “I still have moments when I’m driving and I think a manhole cover might blow up because of the [memory] of being over there.”

Viray is one of 11 people in Glendale’s Veteran’s Rental Assistance Program, which serves those who have been honorably discharged and left the military within the last eight years. The pilot program launched last year, championed by Glendale Housing Authority president and City Councilman Frank Quintero.

A combat veteran of the Vietnam war, Quintero said he sees similarities between the disillusioned soldiers who came home to an indifferent nation in the early 1970s and those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It is always an abrupt sort of homecoming, no matter what,” Quintero said, “seeing combat and seeing people die, and then walking the streets of your hometown. I knew we had the ability to put together some programs to help with the transition.”

Peter Zovak, the city’s deputy housing director, said the program is still being assessed, with officials sorting out whether a year is long enough to help veterans and their families build a stable foundation.

At the same time, the city and Glendale Memorial Hospital are preparing to add another program for veterans. The hospital and city are in negotiations with affordable housing developer Mercy Housing and the nonprofit New Directions to build veterans housing on Glendale Memorial property.

Zovak said he hopes to have a proposal in place for the Housing Authority to consider in July.

Viray, meanwhile, is working to overcome post traumatic stress disorder while showing other vets how to get on track. He said he wants to make a career of advocating for veterans.

“I deal with all kinds of veterans, from World War II to today’s war,” he said. “Getting to talk to one of them, it makes me want to say, ‘Thank you. You are my hero.’”

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