The Need and Opportunity

“If a nonprofit is looking for someone who is trustworthy, responsible, not afraid of hard work under tough conditions, good at building a team and leading, and putting all those things together under stressful conditions, that’s what these veterans bring to the table. I don’t think the community always realizes the skill sets they have.”—Tom Braaten, Vietnam veteran

Current and former servicemen and women and their families represent a huge, underutilized reservoir of human capital AmeriCorps programs can tap to improve their service delivery and impact. Veterans can bring a high level of dedication, focus, and self-motivation, as well as well-developed organizational and other specialized skills. In addition, they are predisposed to service to others: One survey of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans by Civic Enterprises showed that 70 percent were motivated to volunteer in their communities even while on active duty and that 50 percent said they had volunteered since returning from overseas. This compares to the 27 percent of Americans at large who volunteer, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to the Department of Defense, there are roughly 1.2 million spouses and almost 2 million children of active duty military personnel, reservists, and members of the National Guard. Military families exemplify resilience, courage, and patriotism that can inspire others to serve. They and the millions of spouses and children of veterans supportive of the ideas of duty and service to others also represent another source of potential members for AmeriCorps programs.

However, many veterans and their loved ones struggle after enduring long deployments and while going through the post-service transition back to civilian life. The challenges facing veterans and their families are reflected in the following statistics:

  • According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night and well over 400,000 are at risk of experiencing homelessness over the course of a year.
  • An investigation by CBS News using Department of Defense and other statistics found that in 2005 there were over 6,000 suicides among veterans. That amounts to 120 per week for a year. The highest suicide rate was among veterans aged 20 to 24, many of whom would have served in Operation Enduring Freedom and/or Operation Iraqi Freedom.
  • Forty percent of reservists returning from Iraq screened positive for at least one mental health problem during the first six months post-deployment, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
  • Almost a third of U.S. Army spouses report dissatisfaction with their employment opportunities, as calculated by the Sloan Work and Family Research Network using Army statistics.
  • The data analyzed by the Sloan Work and Family Research Network also showed that anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of Army spouses report their oldest children having difficulties with sadness, lack of concentration, and aggressive behavior during and after a military parent’s deployment.

Expanding national service opportunities for veterans and veteran-serving organizations can accomplish great things:

  • Support veterans and their families transitioning back to nonmilitary life
  • Enable veterans and military family members to demonstrate their skills and experience in the civilian workforce
  • Assist organizations in providing veterans with opportunities to engage in civilian service and make a difference in their communities

CNCS is committed to working with veterans and military families through programs such as AmeriCorps State and National, AmeriCorps VISTA, and AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps. AmeriCorps also provides a vehicle for supporting the mission of veteran-serving organizations and state departments of veterans affairs. Some AmeriCorps programs have specific funding set-asides for tribal veterans organizations. AmeriCorps is also particularly interested in service in rural or disadvantaged communities. These organizations can receive grants from CNCS for projects such as:

  • Promoting community-based efforts to meet the unique needs of military families while a family member is deployed
  • Recruiting veterans, particularly returning veterans, into service opportunities
  • Assisting veterans in developing educational opportunities, internships, and fellowships that could lead to employment
  • Promoting efforts within a community to serve the needs of veterans and families of members of the Armed Forces who are on active duty
  • Assisting veterans in developing mentoring relationships with economically disadvantaged students
  • Assisting veterans with disabilities, veterans who are unemployed, older veterans, and veterans in rural communities

Research shows that connecting veterans to volunteer service helps them transition to civilian life and enables them to give back to their communities. At the same time, AmeriCorps can benefit from tapping into the energies and talents of the tens of thousands of men and women who leave military service each year and are looking for ways to continue their service to our country while demonstrating their skills and experience in a civilian setting.

 


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