Those of us in the veterans space understand the integral role of veterans in our community life, and our community’s impact on veteran lives.
We encourage our collaboratives to take inventory of their members and make sure that local government is represented -- not just the veterans office or department, but also by leadership that can activate offices and resources under their purview to ensure that veterans are not slipping through the cracks.
New in town: veteran touchpoints at town hall
When it comes to identifying veterans as they reintegrate, there’s no current information pipeline informing communities when veterans come home, so service providers often only discover veteran needs once they’ve become unmanageable or emergent. Registering a vehicle, licensing a pet, registering to vote, paying property taxes, accessing vital records, obtaining hunting and fishing licenses, and notary services all happen at town or city hall. Municipal governments have quite possibly the most organic veteran touchpoints of all providers, and the potential to learn soonest that a veteran has relocated to a community.
Some civic leaders are actively participating with collaboratives working toward the wellbeing of veterans and their families. When local government officials come to the table, both the veterans and the community benefit.
From our network of local partners, we’ve identified a couple of excellent examples worth sharing.
Innovation in Indianapolis
In 2010 Indianapolis' Mayor Greg Ballard (Lt Col, USMC Ret.) established Indianapolis’ first-ever full time veterans services officer. The following January, he convened the Mayors’ Advisory Council for Veterans, and invited other mayors and town managers from Marion County to participate. When Mayor Ballard left office, Mayor Hogsett directed that the collaborative work and networking continue. Together with an apolitical supporting non-profit, the civic entity is able to plan and promote events and bolster projects that promote, support, and inform area veterans and service members about available services and benefits.
New ideas in New York
In 2016, New York City founded an independent city entity, Department of Veterans Services (Commissioner: Brigadier General, USA Ret Loree Sutton), to serve veterans and advise the city on how to serve veterans, “regardless of discharge status.” Their services touch every realm of community life—education, housing, employment, and physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Since DVS stood up in 2016, the city has implemented legislation supporting veterans, programming to outreach and support them before crises occur, and responses to urgent veteran needs: In November 2017, the city amended an administrative code to ensure the protection of veterans from employment, housing, and accommodation discrimination. This October, the de Blasio administration announced a multi-agency emergency solution protecting student veterans whose GI Bill payments have been delayed from eviction. This year, Department of Corrections is opening opened a veterans’ housing unit on Rikers Island with enrichment and re-entry programs tailored to veteran needs, and with guards who are also veterans. In 2016, the city improved service on a notoriously slow Manhattan bus route, enabling veterans improved access to primary care services at the VA New York Harbor Health Care System Manhattan Campus.
Great power, great potential
Cities and towns (and their leaders) hold great power and potential to positively impact the integration of veterans into their communities. Veteran collaboratives can activate that power by including civic leaders in their work, meetings, and communications. How do you engage civic leaders in your collaborative work? Let us know!