Operation Homefront Assistance Comes Full Circle for Marine Veteran
Five years had passed between their phone conversations, but Marine Corps veteran Larry McAfee instantly recognized the voice of Operation Homefront caseworker Kerry Shumake when she called him this summer.
Larry initially talked to Kerry in 2018, when he reached out to Operation Homefront’s Critical Financial Assistance (CFA) program. At that time, the family budget was stretched to a breaking point, and he needed assistance with rent.
Larry’s request was one of nearly 55,000 Operation Homefront has fulfilled since initiating the CFA program in 2011. The program – designed to help prevent temporary financial hardships from becoming long-term struggles – has provided over $39 million in assistance to service members and veterans in its 12 years.
It helped him cross a bridge from hardship to success, and the experience left a positive impression.
Since overcoming the financial hurdle, Larry completed his MBA degree from Harvard University and established a career as a managerial engineer. He recently settled in Houston, Texas, to be near his two young sons. He also owns a couple of rental properties in the city.
Hearing the caseworker’s voice, even though they only spoke a handful of times, made him remember the relief he felt when Kerry told him his application was approved.
“You always remember someone who helped you. You hear their voice and know it,” Larry said, adding that he couldn’t forget her because she was understanding and straightforward as they worked through the steps of getting his request approved.
Five years later, Kerry called again. This time, she was assisting his tenant, also a veteran who applied for help with rent.
The tenant, who has a 100 percent VA disability rating, separated from the service in 2022 after 10 years in the Air Force. During his transition from military to civilian life, he struggled financially as he waited for VA benefits to start.
Larry empathized, and explained how the CFA program had provided relief for him when he faced a similar challenge.
Kerry, who has worked with Operation Homefront since 2016, recognized the landlord’s name as a previous client when she reached out to verify past-due rent. She was pleased when he remembered her.
Seeing the assistance come full circle was a first in her seven-year career as a social worker helping military families, and it reinforced for her the good that she and the CFA program are doing.
“The caseworkers don’t get to see how it plays out,” she said. “Getting this full-circle moment shows that Operation Homefront’s assistance puts a foundation under the service member. It helped him get over the hurdle that was standing in the path of where he needed to go.”
Kerry and the other CFA caseworkers handle as many as 20 active cases at a time and complete them in about two weeks. The assistance ranges from less than $100 for food or essential baby items to thousands of dollars from home repairs.
“A hardship is a hardship,” she said, noting that statistically many Americans are only a couple of paychecks from experiencing homelessness. “Having to buy new tires for your car could mean that you’re not able to pay rent.”
As costs for food, energy, housing, and home and auto insurance rise, military families feel a disproportionate impact because many are single-income families, and many incur out-of-pocket moving costs. Veterans living on fixed incomes have not seen monthly increases to offset inflationary prices.
“Many military families are struggling to make ends meet, and we work hard to be there for them in their time of need after all they have done for us in our nation’s time of need,” she said. “We understand that financial hardship affects people in many ways, including taking a toll on mental health.”
She continued, “You can tell some have been holding it together for a long time and they are exhausted because when they start telling you about their hardship, they start to cry.”
She also understands the relief people feel when they receive approval for assistance.
“The tone changes, or there’s a big sigh, or they will cry,” she said. That – and learning about Larry’s post-military success – show her she is where she needs to be.
Larry said talking with Kerry again showed him something, too.
“It let me know that Operation Homefront and the people who work there really care because they are still there after five years,” he said. “Their passion is for helping military people find their balance.”
Larry also acknowledged the donors who make Operation Homefront’s programs possible. “I wouldn’t have made it to where I am today without Operation Homefront and without the donors,” he said. “They are part of my success.”