For all the brave men and women who sacrificed and served America in the military, it shouldn’t be a struggle to get by and transition back into civilian life. That’s why United Way fights to provide veterans and their families with services to help with that sometimes difficult transition.
Approximately half of United Way programs impact and serve veterans in some way, and that number is growing each year. Programs providing services to veterans range from employment training, to childcare, to mental health to senior services.
In addition, Strategies to End Homelessness is the coordinating partner of all United Way-funded homeless shelters, which serve many veterans.
tristate veterans community alliance
In May of 2014, United Way was one of five local organizations convened to build the Tristate Veterans Community Alliance (TVCA), an independent, veteran-led nonprofit working to better align veteran support services across our community.
“United Way fights for everyone in our community to have the opportunity to thrive,” said Ross Meyer, vice president of community impact, United Way of Greater Cincinnati, and TVCA Board member. “Unfortunately, those who have fought for us often face many challenges transitioning back into civilian life after serving our country. The services and supports for veterans are often fragmented and difficult to navigate. United Way supports the Tristate Veterans Community Alliance to better coordinate and align all of the support for veterans and their families so that they can seamlessly transition back into our local community."
Dan Knowles, a United States Army veteran, and president and CEO, Tristate Veterans Community Alliance, was working with fellow West Point alumni in the area to develop a training program for employers on how to attract, hire, onboard and retain veterans. Around the same time, he got involved with United Way agency partner Easter Seals Tristate, which had received a grant to figure out which veterans services were working, which weren’t , and where the gaps are.
“The first recommendation from Easter Seals was that our community needed an independent, veteran-led organization to address these things,” said Knowles. “When we decided to start the TVCA, we wanted to get organizations involved that had a broad perspective of the services offered in the community, as well as in the veteran sector. Of course Easter Seals was a partner in that, United Way as one of the primary backbone organizations for our community was at the top of our list, the USO, the VA and the Red Cross make up the nucleus of our organization.”
Knowles said that the initial transition is not just transitioning from military back to civilian life, but transitioning from that first job you had when you got out of the army, to your next job you need to continue your career. A lot of people in the military take the first job that’s offered and very frequently that doesn’t last too long. The transition from the military to civilian careers varies widely — anywhere from two years to 12 years.
“We really do try to be the bridge in the community that tries to connect veterans and their families that are coming into the community or trying to move somewhere else, to all the community services that make the most sense for them,” said Knowles. “As an independent veteran led organization, we have a much higher trust level for most of the veterans that come through because we know a little bit more about their experience and have lived through transitions ourselves.”
The TVCA piloted a project in April 2016 with United Way 211 and Easter Seals to make it easier for veterans to connect to services when they call into 211. Any veteran who called could have the option of being directly connected to veteran navigator services at Easter Seals. In 2015, United Way 211 fielded 2,084 veteran-related service calls.
In July of 2015, the TVCA was selected as Major League Baseball’s veteran project for the All-Star game held here in Cincinnati. Because of the investment, TVCA was able to build a veteran in-processing center, which is the first of its kind in the country. They’ve seen over 570 veterans at the center in the last 15 months.
The TVCA also recently piloted a veteran employment accelerator where individuals leaving the military complete an intense six week program, training on not just job transition skills, but some of the skills that will be things they need to know as they move into civilian careers.
“We worked with five employers in this pilot and the only commitment they had through this process was that they’d provide at least three of the nine participants job interviews,” said Knowles. “They graduated on Veterans Day. This is the only thing of its kind in this region, and I’m pretty confident that they’re all going to end up with jobs coming out of it."