The "Vet Hunters Project" was started earlier this year to seek veterans who are living on the streets and get them into shelters, co-founder and Iraq War veteran Joe Leal said.

About a dozen active-duty and former U.S. service members, including some homeless veterans staying at a Salvation Army shelter in Bell, will join in the bike ride to St. Louis.

The efforts are in response to concerns that millions of dollars in VA funding are sitting idle in bank accounts, while its intended benefactors - homeless veterans - are sleeping in the streets.

"The VA has resources, but the vet living in the park doesn't know that," Leal said. "What good are resources if they don't get to the homeless?"

There are an estimated 8,000 homeless veterans in Los Angeles County - about 11 percent of whom live in the San Gabriel Valley and Whittier areas, according to experts.

"We have this massive, massive problem in the San Gabriel Valley," Southern California Veterans' Employment Committee member Ron Hansel said. "There's so few that realize how bad the homeless problems with our veterans are."

The group rode from the South El Monte Army Reserve Center to El Monte City Hall last week to meet with Councilman Juventino Gomez. Gomez, an army veteran and father of two veterans, has been an ally in the group's efforts to combat homelessness among veterans.  He described the circumstances homeless veterans face in this country as a "horror story."

"When we have young men and women coming back from war without a place to live, these are American soldiers, it's a crying shame that we as a country have allowed this to happen," Gomez said. "We send help to other countries, but we don't even take care of our own."

The problem of homelessness among veterans in this country has worsened as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wear on. Every year, some 30,000 veterans return home to California, many of whom have experienced multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to officials and experts.

Unlike Vietnam veterans, most of whom served a year in combat, many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have served three, four or five years in combat zones.

Incapable of coping with the trauma on their own, and often too proud to ask for help, some veterans push away those who care about them and turn to drugs and alcohol, Hansel said. 
626-962-8811, ext. 2477

For a schedule of the route to be taken by the Vet Hunters Project Platoon, please go to: