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New Type of Soldier Needs a Renewed Veteran Support Program

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By Michael Kotick

We are in the longest standing war in our nation’s history where post-9/11 service members engage in multiple deployments in short succession, making the modern tour of duty as unique as the attention these individuals need upon their return civilian life. For many, this is the toughest fight.

Orange County has the fourth largest veteran population in California, and our state leads the nation in job initiatives for returning soldiers. A daunting 75% of our own Orange County veterans have said that they are having trouble adjusting to civilian life. One in four of our veterans lives below the poverty line, making up 20-percent of Orange County’s homeless population. The findings are highlighted in the first, in-depth assessment on the state of Orange County veterans. Released in 2015 by the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, most of the 1,200 veterans interviewed expressed genuine surprise at how hard it was to find meaningful work, despite being told they would be highly sought by civilian employers.

On the flip side of this equation, I gained extraordinary insight from an employer’s perspective when I facilitated an innovative agreement between the US Army PaYS Program and Hyundai Motor America. We matched qualified military technicians to auto-technician jobs after honorable discharge “[becoming] the key player between the Corporate Automotive culture [at Hyundai] and the Army’s regulations,” wrote Cherrie Warzocha, Sergeant First Class, US Army Recruiting Command – Ret. The program has now celebrated over a decade of success.

Unfortunately, opportunities such Hyundai’s are frequently overlooked. Colonel Arnold V. Strong (U.S. Army – Ret), an endorser of my campaign has given me further insight to the challenge. Strong served in the US Army for over thirty years and retired this June at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, CA, as a decorated veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. Referring to himself as one of the ‘fortunate ones’ he successfully transitioned to a high profile job as the Director of Communications for one of Southern California’s fastest growing Artificial Intelligence (AI) companies. What is missing, said Strong, is not only the guidance and support in finding employment but also ‘transition’ in its own right.
Keeping in mind that 70 percent of returning soldiers arrive in Orange County without a job, it can tend to be the only point of focus by those who see veteran support as a critical national issue. However, in-line with USC’s Orange County Veterans Study, we know that proposed solutions need to be more comprehensive and cover the entire transition back to civilian life. My veteran action plan is comprised of two main areas of support and development:
(1) a Pre-Retirement Transition Program with an actionable employment plan and;
(2) the creation of a structured network for support services.

The move from a structured military way of life to a relatively unstructured civilian lifestyle can be overwhelming, confusing and require a significant adjustment for veterans who have spent years serving our country in a very different way than many of us live our day-to-day lives.

A six-month Pre-Retirement Transition Program would dedicate time to engage in active planning around housing, budgeting, location of key services, and job preparedness in anticipation of future discharge. This structured roadmap will help the servicemember prepare for a new civilian way of life, and identify a clear path to a job or career.
Dedicated focus on the jobs component of the pre-retirement transition program would ensure veterans are supported when sourcing and securing their new civilian careers. Veterans describe the current employment system as overwhelming. Despite the best of intentions by countless initiatives, “they [still] don’t know where to turn” and feel frustrated as they are referred from one employment website to another, with hours spent filling out application forms to little result. Some feel betrayed. Others — directionless, completely give up.
The jobs component of the pre-retirement program needs to include:
(a) identifying the desired field and its necessary qualifications;
(b) enrolling in education and/or retraining prior discharge;
(c) actively cultivating prospective employers, including those who are “friends of veterans”;
(d) granting leave time so job interviews can be done face-to-face (video or in-person);
(e) coaching veterans on how to articulate their military experiences to employers. Veterans need
to be able to advocate for themselves in thoughtful and persuasive ways; and,
(e) identifying “transition mentors” for transitioning service members to have a structure of
accountability, feedback, and a rewarding emotional connection as they were accustomed to
while in active service; Leadership, technical skills, discipline, a strong work ethic and teamwork crafted by the finest fighting force in the world, are exceptional attributes and are of extraordinary value to civilian employers.

John Newman, founder and executive director of the nonprofit ArmedForce2Workforce wrote, “When you consider the combination of value that vets bring, recent positive trends in the economy overall and the current level of goodwill toward those who served, the rates of veteran unemployment should be close to zero.” But they are not.

While there are numerous services available to veterans, there is glaring lack of coordination and communication. I faced this same challenge in a Fortune 500, where the mass introduction and investment in programs tied to strategic priorities create fragmentation and sometimes confusion. By creating a unified, structured information network, veterans, agencies, and employers will be able to:
(a) collaborate efforts across the community in the areas of jobs and health services;
(b) create and initiate best practices for housing, budgeting, and general transition information;
and,
(c) share measurement and accountability, as more is learned from veterans studies across the country.

133,000 veterans now call Orange County home. If community organizations and leaders, service providers, nonprofits and policy makers create a comprehensive model — or as the USC study says, “a targeted intervention leading to collective impact” — then the 6-thousand veterans who relocate here by next year, and the thousands who will arrive in the years after that, will have more than a fighting chance — and the hero’s welcome they and their families deserve.

We need to thank our Veterans for the risks that they have taken for our country in defending our freedom by showing gratitude through actions – not just words. #StandUnited

About the Author

Michael Kotick developed his relationship with the veteran community well over a decade ago, pioneering an innovative collaboration between the automotive community and veteran mechanics, a program that is still in operation today. Now, a Democratic Congressional Candidate in Orange County (CA-48), home to the 4th largest veteran population in California, Michael is committed to making a positive impact. For more visit: https://www.KotickForCongress.com

Policy Academies Aim to Support Veterans

Veterans Economic Communities Initiative

By Debbie Gregory.

This year, in an effort to promote collaboration and open dialogue among organizations dedicated to the success of transitioning service members, veterans, and their families, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) launched the Veterans Economic Communities Initiative (VECI).

I had the pleasure of attending the Department of Veterans Affairs’ two-Day Veterans Economic Communities Initiative Policy Academy in Orange County, CA. This was the first in a series of “Policy Academies” the VA is hosting around the nation, in collaboration with national and community partners across industries and sectors.

These Policy Academies are an important part of the VECI campaign, as they serve as a forum for interactive training and networking, and provide access to new research for stakeholders who serve the Veteran community. Through VECI Policy Academies, VA is convening local, regional, and national partners across industries and sectors to facilitate and encourage dialog and collaboration.

One of my take-aways from the academy was that community-based efforts have a huge impact on the economic success of veterans. Engaging organizations and individuals in the community for the benefit of transitioning service members, veterans, and their families is crucial. This includes recognizing the value of hiring veterans and military spouses and improving the services, support and guidance to transitioning service members, veterans, and their families.   This is a big part of my motivation in launching Joining Forces California.

While I was extremely impressed by many of the corporate citizens present, I was most impressed by Hilton Worldwide and Apria Healthcare.

Hilton Worldwide’s 12 unique hospitality brands across 4,200 hotels in 93 countries and territories make Hilton Worldwide  the fastest growing global hotel company. Launched in 2013, Hilton’s Operation: Opportunity is a major initiative to provide extensive support to United States military veterans and their families. The initiative has a goal to hire 10,000 veterans at the company by 2018. Additionally, the program allows the donation of millions of Hilton HHonors points that veterans can redeem for free hotel stays while seeking jobs, both within and outside the company.

Apria Healthcare, one of the nation’s leading providers of home healthcare medical equipment and related services, supports our veterans and reservists through an outreach initiative called “Hiring Our Heroes.” Launched in 2014, the purpose of this initiative is to support those who have served our country by offering veterans the opportunity to make a successful transition to civilian life through employment with Apria. By focusing employment outreach and recruitment programs to attract veterans, Apria hopes to bring to its ranks men and women ingrained with qualities that align with Apria’s values, like leadership and a commitment to service excellence and teamwork, to help maintain and improve the quality of life for the company’s patients.

Earning the Status of “Veteran”

retirees

By Debbie Gregory.

On November 10th, the Senate passed the Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act (S 1203), a bill to grant “honorary” veteran status to as many as 200,000 Reserve and National Guard retirees. Although they signed up to serve, these brave individuals have never been deemed veterans because they did not serve a qualifying period of active service under federal orders.

On November 16th the House passed the Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act (HR 1384), a standalone bill from Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) which echoed the sentiments of the Senate bill.

Both the Senate-approved language and the House bill bestow veterans’ status on as many as 200,000 retirees. It will not, however, expand their benefits beyond what federal law now allows.

Impacted retirees are those who left service without a DD-214 or Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty. Though they had 20 or more “good” years of drill points earned on weekends and through annual training, they were never called to active duty. Many of these retirees, as well as most civilians, are surprised to learn they aren’t legally veteran.

The bills will only bestow the right to be called a veteran, but it will have a few caveats. The bill recognizes the retirees as vets to honor their service but will not extend the same benefits as active duty and other veterans. They will receive the treatment from the VA that qualified vets receive. They may get a VA home loan.

David L. McLenachen, Director of the Pension and Fiduciary Service, Department of Veteran’s Affairs said, the VA opposes extending “veteran status to those who never performed active military, naval or air service, the very circumstance [that] qualifies an individual as a veteran.”

Shouldn’t all Guard and Reservists be recognized as veterans, given that they signed on and served their country in the capacity that they were ordered to?

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Military Connection: VA Combat Call Center: By Debbie Gregory

CombatCallCenterVeterans are susceptible to stresses that most civilians cannot relate to. When they were in the service, it wasn’t always easy to talk to civilian friends and family back home about their problems, mostly because they couldn’t relate. Instead, service members would lean on their battle buddies or their comrades because they could understand the struggles, and sympathize with the difficulties.

Now that they have transitioned out, Veterans may need support system comprised of those who can relate to what they have been through. The VA Combat Call Center at 1-877-WAR-VETS (927-8387) is there for any Veteran who needs someone to talk to.

The VA Combat Call Center runs 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, staffed by combat Veterans and the spouses of disabled Veterans. This means that any Veteran, family member or friend seeking counseling in relation to military service can call, anytime, and be connected to a sympathetic staff member who has walked in the same shoes.

Along with relating to callers on a personal level, staff members at the VA Combat Call Center are also highly trained counselors, and several are also licensed mental health providers. They are trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of a Veteran in crisis, and take the appropriate measures to get each caller the help they need.

The VA Combat Call Center has a working relationship with the Veterans Crisis Line. When a caller is clearly in crisis, the call center has the capability to keep the person on the line and include a counselor from the Veterans Crisis Line via a warm transfer, ensuring that the Veteran or family member in crisis gets the help they need from the most appropriate source.

Through both training and personal experience, all Veterans and spouses working at the VA Combat Call Center are also experts on services and benefits offered by the VA and local programs. These services and benefits include mental health/readjustment counseling, bereavement assistance, homeless programs, substance abuse and PTSD treatment options, the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, VA home loan guaranty, and even how to obtain copies of their DD-214s.

The VA Combat Call Center is always available to assist Veterans, 24/7 at 1-877-WAR-VETS (927-8387).

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Combat Call Center: By Debbie Gregory