In 2009, the Washington Commission for National and Community Service partnered with the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) to launch the first CNCS-funded Vet Corps program in the nation. The goal was to engage veterans in AmeriCorps national service positions that would help them make a positive difference in communities across the state and aid in their reintegration into the community after military service. Currently 32 AmeriCorps members participate in the program, including 26 veterans and six spouses of vets, two of whom are widows. Vets Corps members focus on three different areas:
- Community-based efforts—This work engages veterans and soldiers in meeting the needs of military families while a family member is deployed and/or when the individual returns home. Vets Corps members recruit recent Iraq and Afghanistan veterans attending colleges and universities to participate in local service projects as a group or with other AmeriCorps programs. They connect veterans recovering from traumatic brain injury to services and to civilians who also are recovering from such injuries. And, they help homeless veterans find safe and affordable housing.
- Vets clubs on college campuses—During its pilot year, the Vet Corps developed a memorandum of understanding with two and four-year college campuses. This led to the establishment of 15 vets clubs that offer a safe and supportive community for veterans on campus. The program works with veterans to navigate the enrollment process; assess their computer skills and get help in filling any gaps; become oriented to campus life; and take advantage of available resources. One big focus is helping veterans understand their G.I. benefits—in just one year more than 3,000 veterans were served in this way.
- Warrior Transition Battalion—Vets Corps members conducted in-takes and out-takes on 300 soldiers in the Warrior Transition Battalion to connect them with crucial community services. The program ensured that Battalion members continued to access identified services for 30, 60, 90, and 180 days after discharge.
Washington Commission Director Bill Basl describes how his state launched these efforts and offers tips to other State Commissions that want to start their own initiatives.
Video: Interview with Bill Basl
Interview with Bill Basl
As Basl mentions, gaining the support of a state veterans affairs department is immensely helpful. In Washington, the director of the WDVA prepared a letter and e-mail to send to his colleagues around the nation, praising the collaborative Vets Corps program. Press releases publicizing partnerships between State Commissions and veteran-serving organizations are also a good tool to advance the work.
Testimonials and public service announcements that feature veterans can help put a face and a voice on the need to re-engage former servicemen and women in the community and the transformative power of national service. Following are two examples prepared by the Corporation, featuring Washington veterans Timm Lovitt and Gary Gray.
Video: My American Story - Timm Lovitt
My American Story - Timm Lovitt
Video: My American Story - Gary Gray
My American Story - Gary Gray
Brochures detailing the benefits of national service for veterans can be distributed on military bases, Veterans Affairs clinics and hospitals, and other locations where veterans gather. The Washington Vet Corps has a brochure that helps veterans enrolling in college understand their educational benefits.
Washington commissioned a focus group study that captured the experiences of three Vet Corps members. The interviews revealed that the veterans went through four stages after discharge and during their period of AmeriCorps service: an initial desire to disconnect from military culture; an impulse to reconnect with the service once again; a search and yearning for meaningful work; and a healing process that came about as a direct result of peer-to-peer connections.
For more information about the WVDA program, contact Mark Fischer at 360.725.2224. Additional Vet Corps documents and sample materials can be found in the Resources section.