After my son Danny’s second tour in Afghanistan and his separation from the Army with 10th Mountain Division, we very quickly came to the realization that he had been severely underprepared for his transition from military life. We invested a great deal of time, energy and frustration with the fact that a process or a program should have been provided during pre-separation that would have prepared him for what he would experience. We began to envision forming an organization to address this problem and to put what we had learned from our own experiences into action for others. It was 2004 and there were an estimated 3,500 Veteran related non-profit organizations across the nation. At the time this seemed like a very large number. Fast forward to 2015, there are now over 45,000.
We began by asking ourselves a question that has continued to guide me to this day, “What is needed and why are we relevant?”
What is Needed?
First, what is not needed. In my opinion, not another well intending Veteran services organization replicating what hundreds of similar groups are doing. Not another redundant small non-profit competing for donors and attention in a very confusing landscape of choices. A landscape of players and organization that has become so confusing and so vast it is often referred to as a “Sea of goodwill”.
With Veterans dying from suicide at a rate of 18-22 per day, we need to get ahead of this problem as fast as possible. Prevention and early intervention, before Veterans spiral out of control seems to make the most common sense.
Don’t compete, collaborate. What is needed are more organizations acting as traffic controllers, identifying needs and directing people in need to organizations and resources to help Veterans and families solve their presenting problems and future challenges. There are a great number of directory/clearing house web destinations and we intend to direct people to them but what is also needed is a real person engaging another person in the problem solving process. This is the first area of opportunity we are directing our attention toward. We decided to title our traffic controllers “Veteran Peer Advisors” to hopefully minimize the perception that we are somehow competing with existing and well established Veteran “Peer Mentoring” programs. Our role is to identify a need and to connect the person to a solution. In many cases, our role will be to introduce a Veteran in need to a Veteran Peer Mentor who will assist them long-term. In other cases, it will be to help them find an experienced Veteran with another organization to help them write a resume, find a job, prepare for college or to file a claim or an appeal with the VA. It is a form of triage that is designed to open up a conversation between two people and to establish trust and confidence. With each person, we start from start by doing our best to answer three simple questions: Who are you?, Where are you? and Where do you want to go from here? We have tools and resources to help us answer these questions uniquely for each person that have proven to be invaluable.
This is our progress report for now. We are a work in progress with a small group of bright people who are fast learners with a big vision. We haven’t screwed anything up beyond repair and have many years of building credibility and confidence with stakeholders from every sector of the Veteran community. With our tools and strategy now in place, it is time to further organize a base of trained Peer Advisors for both Veterans and for families that will help us solve problems, save lives and keep families together.
We can “hope” things get better but “hope” is not a strategy (look for this title of a blog post coming soon).
We have an executable plan to bring people and resources together to get ahead of the problem.
This is what is needed and why we are relevant.