From 2006 to 2010, an anonymous donor (since revealed) invested approximately $250 million in the well-being of service members, veterans, families and survivors impacted by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The funds were distributed to over 50 organizations, including the Coalition for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans (CIAV), to build a network of care, to shepherd ties between grantee agencies serving individuals and build public/private partnerships with our colleagues in the DoD, VA, Department of Labor, and other relevant government entities. This investment has been phenomenal, and services have grown and matured, but we find ourselves facing new challenges in a tough economy.
At the time, movements had been bubbling up in communities around the country to respond to the fallout of the wars. Small start-up organizations like Jacob’s Light, Vets4Vets and Homes for Our Troops, that were already offering services and support in their communities, were able to help more people in need. Dorine Kenney, a Gold Star mother had been sending care packages to soldiers in Iraq who had served with her son, Jacob. Vets4Vets, a peer-based support group nurtured by a Vietnam veteran has grown to have 25 chapters, providing retreats and supportive programs for returning. Homes for Our Troops, established by John Gonsalves, a construction supervisor, sought ways to organize communities to build accessible homes for wounded warriors.
Established agencies had begun to see the impact of the new landscape and develop programs specifically tailored for the needs of today’s warriors and their families. The TIRR Foundation in Texas, a nationally recognized brain injury treatment facility, established Project Victory for service members and veterans with traumatic brain injury, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) stood ready to embrace a generation of sisters, mothers, and spouses of those lost in these wars. TAPS continues to be at the forefront of providing support for survivors of suicide who were left to grieve without recognition of their loved one’s service. Swords to Plowshares (my agency), a nationally recognized veteran service organization that also oversees the CIAV has developed programs specifically tailored for young veterans ranging from help seeking careers in a tough job market to providing free VA benefits advocacy.
We have learned that there are still too many gaps in services, gaps in capacity, access and gaps in knowledge. While thousands of government and private programs exist, it is a daunting task to navigate the quality, capacity, eligibility requirements of them all. How can a commander, chaplain, spouse, or even a professional case manager navigate this maze of good will? We hope that by building a network through collaborative relationships and through Web-based forums like Craigconnects that we can speed access to quality care.
It has been almost ten years that we have been at war. As our service members return, our responsibility to serve them will grow, next year and for decades to come. It is incumbent on us, as individuals, professional care providers, researchers, non-profits, businesses and government to maintain supports and to do a better job of ensuring that care is accessible. That remains the goal of the CIAV.
Amy Fairweather serves as the Program Director of the Coalition for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans, a group comprised of more than 50 organizations nationwide dedicated to helping those impacted by deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Click here for her full bio.