As the nation nears two decades of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, horrifying reports of suicides among veterans continue and underscore the crisis in mental health, social isolation, and resource coordination. In addition, as research by NLC has shown, veterans remain on the leading edge of one of the largest demographic changes we have ever seen and face significant challenges to ensure they can safely age-in-place.
All of this is happening as the historic progress on veteran homelessness continues, with a more than 5 percent decline from 2017 to 2018, representing a nearly 50 percent decline since 2010. And yet, more than 14,500 veterans are estimated to be sleeping on the streets of the country they have defended.
Building on the progress made and directly confronting these challenges requires coordination and collaboration driven not only by data, but also by persistent local leadership.
At the center, these issues are a fundamental matter of national security, as taking care of those who serve is elemental to the viability of the all-volunteer force model.
Why should any parent encourage their child to serve, if the nation does not honor that commitment with the supports necessary to address service-related need when that person comes home?
Why should any woman or man raise their hand to defend the flag, if later in life they will struggle to use the bathroom in their own home because of inadequate access to accommodate a wheelchair resulting from military service?
Why should anyone put their life on the line, if we as a country cannot promise that they will not sleep on a sidewalk when their service is complete?
These challenges are multi-faceted and complex, but the progress made on veteran homelessness offers promise and hope that issues once thought intractable can be solved.
Last month as part of NLC’s Congressional City Conference, more than 40 elected officials and leaders of local veteran-serving organizations came together to build and strengthen efforts to holistically meet the needs of veterans and their families. Participants came from two dozen distinct communities and joined with national partners from the National Veterans Intermediary (NVI) as a pragmatic model for making progress.
Thomas Winkel from the Arizona Coalition for Military Families reported on the dramatic progress on stemming veteran suicide that they were able to help facilitate using the principals of collective impact. As part of their Be Connected effort, the coalition develops, disseminates, and implements a variety of treatment methods that provide suicide inventions as far before a moment of crisis as possible.
Kate Hatten, Executive Director of the Peak Military Care Network, walked participants through the process for developing and strengthening an organization that provides the essential role of lead coordinator to facilitate collaboration. Thanks to PMCN, Ft. Carson, the U.S. Air Force Academy and the tens of thousands of military families who call Colorado Springs home have a one-stop location for access to benefits and services ranging from housing, healthcare, and employment, to education, childcare, and caregiver support.
Participants identified specific goals for establishing and strengthening their local partnerships at home and will be offered on-going learning opportunities on issues including how to use data to serve vulnerable populations, homeless services coordination, and transportation.
In addition to the forum, members of NLC’s Military Communities Council were also briefed on this work and invited to join the national ecosystem facilitated by NVI.
To learn more about these efforts, the progress happening in these communities and how you can start or strengthen similar efforts, join us for a webinar on Tuesday, May 7 from 12:00 – 1:30p EST.
For more information contact Elisha Harig-Blaine, Manager (Veterans & Special Needs), firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Program Manager for Housing at the National League of Cities (NLC), connecting local leaders to best practices and efforts working to ensure all veterans have a safe place to call home. He has worked at the local, state, and federal levels on homelessness and housing for more than 15 years.