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.

Military Connection: Zero8hundred: Pioneering Veteran Assistance


Each year, more than 15,000 Sailors and Marines stationed in and near San Diego separate from active duty military service. With over half of these men and women remaining in the area, San Diego County boasts the third largest population of Veterans in the nation. With so many Veterans concentrated in one area, competition for jobs and Veteran resources in such a relatively small community can be tough. Veterans need all the assistance they can get to maintain an edge in the job market, even over other Veterans. The good news is that a new community collaboration called “Zero8hundred” has begun assisting San Diego area Veterans to transition into civilian jobs.

The name Zero8hundred is the spelled out way of saying the military time of 0800, and can be attributed to a few concepts that the organization wishes to represent. The time 0800 or 8:00 a.m. is the time of day when many civilian professionals arrive at work. This reference is intended to recognize the ambitions of professional employment that many Veterans aspire to. Also, according to Zero8hundred’s Executive Director, Sean Mahoney, a retired Coast Guard Captain (O-6), Zero8hundred’s name also pays homage to the daily military tradition that occurs every day on base at 0800– morning colors, when the U.S. flag is raised, and service members stop what they’re doing to salute the raising of the flag. Mahoney hopes that his organization will reflect that daily observance by the community, stopping what they’re doing, and honoring Veterans.

The stated mission of the Zero8hundred organization is to “proactively link transitioning military families to a broad range of resources and opportunities in the community, helping them successfully transition to civilian life.”

In order to achieve their mission, Zero8hundred asks Veterans to subscribe to their site. Once their free account is activated, service members, Veterans and their family members have access to a wealth of resources through Zero8hundred, which include Basic Needs, Education & Jobs, Physical & Mental Health, and Social/Personal Connections.

Zero8hundred also assigns its subscribers with “navigators.”  These men and women are all interns from the University of Southern California’s social work master’s program. Navigators track exiting service members, beginning as far out as six months before their discharge from active duty, and touch base with their Veterans at three month intervals, for one full year after separation from service.

The purpose of Zero8hundred is to give Veterans their best chance to be successful in every aspect of their civilian lives, whether it is through benefits information, education advice, counseling for PTSD or substance abuse, or even helping them locate emergency financial grants.

It is the hope of Zero8hundred leaders that they will become a national model for effectively connecting transitioning military families to a broad array of community resources, all of which will ease their transition into the civilian sectors of their communities.

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. 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, the go to site.

Military Connection: Zero8hundred: Pioneering Veteran Assistance: By Debbie Gregory