Program aims to help hardworking San Diego military families

STEP, Support the Enlisted Project, helps families

SAN DIEGO - A program aims to help military families when unexpected expenses pop up.

Diane Singh has served our country in the Army for 14 years and took a break for one year in 2008.

"We felt the difference of how we were doing when I was in the military and when I got out," she said.

It was hard to make ends meet as a substitute teacher.

"I came running back into the military because it is a different world out there," said Singh.

The national median income is $50,000 annually. Compare that to military personnel E1 to E6 who earn $18,000 to $42,000 annually. Fifty-four percent of them are married, and 44 percent have children.

San Diego County has the largest population of military personnel in the world and an estimated veteran population of more than 240,000.

Transitioning to the civilian world can be very difficult and expensive.          

"I can't imagine trying to make a living here, especially as a civilian," said Singh.

That is where Support the Enlisted Project, or STEP, comes in. They help families with unexpected expenses.

"So it's essential car repairs, the housing, insurance needs, critical household items such as washers, dryers, refrigerators," said STEP President Tony Teravainen. "We'll pay for the service to get those fixed."

They are a privately funded nonprofit organization that supports families with pay grades E1 to E6 whether on active duty or discharged from the military within the past 12 months.

They currently assist three to five veterans each month with emergency housing expenses alone and they expect that number to go up in the coming years, especially as the war draws down.

An estimated 1 million service members will be discharged over the next five years at a rate of about 250,000 per year.

"I think this is great," said Singh. "Whatever programs are out there for service members that get out to transition would be very helpful."

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