Veteran aid group braces for tighter budget

August 2, 2011 5:08:57 AM PDT
With $2.1 trillion in spending cuts, government services from early education, health care and transportation will all be impacted. That includes money that goes to help the men and women who dedicate their lives to keeping the country safe.

Veterans benefits have survived this round of cuts so far, but that doesn't mean there hasn't been an impact. We're focusing on a non-profit that helps the nation's homeless vets and the man with the famous name who's at the helm.

What used to be the site of a motel is now a life-saver for many of Houston's homeless veterans. Midtown Terrace, as it's called, provides services and housing to 1,500 veterans yearly and it's where we met Stephen Peck.

"It's work that you have to be passionate about," Peck said.

Peck is the president and CEO of the non-profit U.S. Vets Initiative, which runs this location and 10 others nationwide. In these uncertain times, he's focused on helping veterans.

"We're very afraid because everything is on the table," he said.

And considering his pedigree, he could have done nothing.

Peck is the son of the late Gregory Peck, a Hollywood icon who instilled in him service. So when 1969 rolled around and he got his draft notice for a war, he didn't dodge it as his mother wished. He went. And still had his father's support.

"He was not happy that I was going. He was very progressive, known as a liberal, known to be against the war but at the same time he was a patriot. He wasn't about to tell me don't go," he said.

Peck spent a year in Vietnam. When he returned, acting wasn't an option.

"I never wanted to step into my father's footsteps. Those are big shoes to fill," he said.

So he tried the other side of the camera as a documentary filmmaker, which eventually took him back to his days as a Marine.

"I got drawn into the issue and didn't want to walk away from it," Peck said.

Today he's a fierce advocate and recognizes the fight is only getting harder -- if not right now -- in the future.

"We have an awful lot of funding from the VA that if they begin to cut everything off the top that we will have to reduce the size of our programs," Peck said.

What the House passed on Monday evening protects veterans benefits, as Peck believes it should.

"I think if we're going to send young men off to war we have to take care of them coming back," he said.

Houston has about 3,500 homeless veterans. Though this debt deal leaves veterans benefits untouched, U.S. Vets has already felt the pinch, losing one government grant worth up to $800,000 while another, aimed at homeless female veterans, has not yet been re-authorized.

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