Program Links Reintegrating Vets to Greater Community

Veterans who are reintegrating back into civilian society after years in the military often have a learning curve and lot of questions: Who can help me with career advice? How can my spouse renew his or her professional license? Where can I sign my kid up for pee wee football?

There might be tons of online resources available, but according to a new community-based initiative, what veterans really seem to want is a human connection — someone to say, “Hey, I know who to ask about that. Let me put you in touch.”

That initiative, called Vets’ Community Connections, is making that happen by getting more civilians, community groups and private companies involved in reintegration efforts.

“Communities across America are hungry to find a way that they can support a veteran in some small way,” said VCC co-founder Kari McDonough. “They want to be able to say more than, ‘thank you for your service,’ but they don’t know how to, and they often don’t know where or who the vets are.”

Vets’ Community Connections has pilot communities in San Diego and South Bend, Indiana. Each created an advisory board consisting of business and media leaders who can connect vets to what they’re looking for through 211, 311, the Chamber of Commerce, private companies and local veteran nonprofits.

For example, if a vet in South Bend is looking for a job in a specific career field, he can call 311 and be put in touch with someone on the advisory board’s community team who knows of opportunities. McDonough said the program aids the town in addressing the challenge of helping a small number of vets in a cost-efficient way.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter thanks attendees at the National Association of Counties convention in Charlotte, N.C., July 11, 2015. (DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt/ Released)

She said most of the vets are just seeking normalcy and have the same questions as anyone else who hasn’t been home in a long time.

VCC is getting a lot of attention already. Defense Secretary Ash Carter mentioned it during a speech in July, marking a major step forward in showing community leaders how important veteran reintegration is.

“The support was overwhelming for an initiative like this,” said VCC co-founder Doug Wilson.

The human interaction part seems to be the key. A VCC study showed that online resources often don’t have the information vets are looking for, like advice on career networking, legal and financial issues, and volunteer opportunities.

“[The respondents] don’t want another place to go and look on the web and not have anybody personal to talk to who can direct them to advice and assistance that’s appropriate for their needs,” Wilson said.

VCC’s community outreach programs can also offer more specific help than what’s available through traditional veterans’ service nonprofits. Take a homeless man in San Diego, for example, who had called 211 for help after getting a job offer.

“In order for him to take the offer, he needed to have working glasses. There was not one nonprofit that fit the need of giving him glasses,” McDonough said. “This would be an offering for that. It would connect him with a local optometrist that would potentially give him glasses.”

Community members who want to offer their expertise can apply and be vetted through their town’s advisory board.

The San Diego and South Bend programs will be formally launched around October, while a third program in Maricopa County, Arizona, is still in development. VCC is hoping to expand across the country if it’s successful.

This article was originally posted here.