Cynthia Dias holds Copper, a friend's dog who she looks after, at her apartment in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Once-homeless vet invited to attend State of the Union speech
January 14, 2016
A formerly homeless veteran from Las Vegas was invited to sit in first lady Michelle Obama's visitor box during the State of the Union address. The speech was on Jan. 12.
Cynthia Dias, 64, served during the Vietnam War. She was on a hospital ship as a registered nurse. She attributed her years of homelessness to post-traumatic stress disorder.
About a year ago, Dias says, she was able to move from a homeless shelter for women and children. Now she lives in a former motel in downtown Las Vegas. It was renovated through private donations. It provides 122 units of housing for veterans. While staying in Veterans Village, residents like Dias get access to health care. They also receive job training and counseling.
The Obama administration is highlighting a challenge that the first lady and Jill Biden, the vice president's wife, issued for local leaders. They asked localities to do more to end veteran homelessness in 2015.
Las Vegas responded to the call. City leaders say they have enough services and programs in place to house every homeless veteran.
Dias said she's in shock from Mrs. Obama's invitation. Dias hopes people will think about her survival when they see her.
"I survived. And I'm thriving here at Veterans Village," Dias said.
"For me, it's been a heaven-sent gift to be among other veterans who are suffering from PTSD," she said. "The camaraderie that veterans have for one another...it's better medication than the anti-depressants."
The founder of Veterans Village is Arnold Stalk. He said it's important to get veterans off the street first and into a stable environment. Once that happens, it's easier to provide the health care and other support they'll need to live in a home permanently.
At the State of the Union, Dias was to join two other Obama guests. They are supporters who the president says provided early inspiration to his campaign.
One is Edith Childs. She is from Greenwood, South Carolina. She met Obama at a rally in her state. That was in June 2007. Obama credits her with coining the "Fired up! Ready to go!" call-and-response. It became a rallying cry for both of his White House bids.
Another guest was expected to be Earl Smith. He was head of security at an Austin hotel. He met Obama in February 2008. He gave Obama a military patch he had carried with him for 40 years. Obama carried it with him for the rest of the campaign.
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why did Mrs. Obama invite the vet instead of someone more famous?
Write your answers in the comments section below