Veterans served holiday meal, sense of community in Oakland

About 100 veterans, many of them homeless, almost all of them struggling, gathered at Oakland's Swords to Plowshares Tuesday for a warm holiday meal, and friendship.

Among the vets there was Melissa Gonzalez, who served in the Air Force in Afghanistan. 

"I got hit with an IED (improvised explosive device) and ejected from my Humvee. I got a traumatic brain injury and shrapnel in my leg," she said.

Gonzalez says she suffers from severe PTSD and that coming to gatherings such as this, with her service dog, helps.

"It keeps my hopes up for the holidays to have that support," she said.

The gathering was financed by Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Jonathan Hankins, who said he just wanted to do something to help.

"My dad was a vet. His brother. It really means a lot to give back," said Hankins.

Swords to Plowshares says there are hundreds of veterans in the Bay Area who are either still on the street or struggling, and that it seems that as soon as one gets back on their feet, another falls down.  

"That says something not too good about our country. If we have an underclass of those who served. Let's take care of them. When they are not taken care of, we have to correct that," said Michael Blecker, executive director of Swords to Plowshares.

These are difficult times for many who were there. But at least for this one day they could set the struggle aside.

"Comrades. Friendship. They don't judge me. I'm a veteran," said Maurice Green.