Partners Help Cities Serve Veterans, Military Families

April 9, 2012
by James Brooks

Brad CooperVeterans of the U.S. armed forces are returning home in droves. Combat troops are withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan, and there are proposed reductions in personnel at overseas posts in Germany, among other places. 

For America's cities and towns this trend represents both an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity is to attract these mostly young, talented and highly motivated individuals and their families to a particular community. The challenge is to be aware of and sensitive to the unique needs of returning veterans, all of whom will need access to employment and housing and many of whom will need health care and rehabilitative services and educational opportunities. 

Likewise, for those service members who remain on active duty, their families continue to face unique challenges due to the stress of separation and frequent moves. 

Fortunately, the nation's collective attention is focusing on the sacrifices and dedication of those who wear the uniforms of the military services and their families. 

NLC's leadership recently met with White House officials to talk about the ways that the country, at both the national and community level, can support veterans and military families. At a briefing held during NLC's Congressional City Conference in March, Brad Cooper, executive director of First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden's Joining Forces initiative, stressed that partnerships with municipal governments and community leaders are needed. 

"We believe that efforts need to be community-based with a flat, collaborative structure to focus on health care, education and employment," Cooper said.

Acting alone, the federal departments cannot meet the critical needs of such a large group of veterans whose experience of war has no precedent during the last 40 years. It is for this reason that NLC entered into a partnership with The Home Depot Foundation in support of the housing rehabilitation needs of disabled veterans. 

NLC is also working to connect cities with tools and resources that can be used to support veterans and military families across several disciplines. A host of government agencies, corporations and nonprofits, including the examples below, have built an intricate web of interlocking services in support of military families and for those returning warriors, especially those who have been severely wounded. 

Habitat for Humanity 

In a focused observance of Memorial Day (May 28) Habitat for Humanity will again channel the resources of 1,600 chapters in 2,000 cities and towns on housing construction and rehabilitation for the nations' veterans. New in 2012 are the resources of a national "Repair Corps" program. Pilot tested among 36 Habitat affiliates in 21 states, this program provides up to $800,000 to serve the needs of U.S. veterans. In addition to repairing roofing and weatherization, this program also installs wheelchair ramps and retrofits doorways and bathrooms to accommodate disabled veterans. 

Community Blueprint Network 

Drafted under the auspices of the Points of Light Institute and an advisory council of 55 veterans and military service organizations, the network represents a needs assessment, a pathway for collaboration and decision making and an "idea mart" for examples of promising practices across a set of eight disciplines. (Those disciplines include health and wellness, employment, housing support and education, among others).

Already piloted in more than a dozen communities, the Community Blueprint Network serves local governments as a useful tool to identify shared goals among partners, avoid duplication and create an opportunity for civilian and military families to work together alongside one another in communities. For more information, go to http://www.handson
network.org/community-blueprint. 

HUD-VASH Vouchers 

This supportive housing initiative combines the housing choice rental assistance voucher for homeless veterans and their families from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with the case management and clinical supportive services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) at its medical centers and in the community. 

Chronically homeless veterans are a target population for this program. With help from public housing agencies, eligible veterans are helped to secure rental housing from private-market landlords. Case managers identify needed social and medical services for HUD-VASH participants and help ensure the provision of supportive services such as medical treatment. 

The vouchers may be used in conjunction with funds available from the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program to cover housing security deposits, including utility deposits. 

Details: To learn more about NLC's project on housing for veterans, contact the Center for Research and Innovation at brooks@nlc.org or (202) 626-3163. To learn more about NLC's Military Communities Peer Networking group, contact Ali Scher at scher@nlc.org or (202) 626-3138.