Unemployed Veterans Get Help From New AmeriCorps Program, Community Blueprint

One in five women who served in the military is jobless and the unemployment rate for post-9/11 vets only recently dropped to single digits. While these figures are staggering, a new volunteer program is ready to tackle the challenge of getting former servicemen and servicewomen back into the workplace.

Launched Tuesday, Community Blueprint will dispense volunteers –- who are mostly vets themselves -- to communities across the country to help veterans, and their spouses, reintegrate into civilian life. The volunteers will be placed by the Veteran Leadership Corps, an extension of AmeriCorps, and will be tasked with helping vets find employment and deal with housing, education and healthcare issues.

"Civilian transition is one of the greatest challenges facing many service members, veterans and their families when they return to their communities," Neil Bush, Chairman of Points of Light's Board of Directors, said in a press release. "No one government agency or nonprofit organization has the resources or intellectual capital to provide a lifetime of care and support for all of these heroes, so our coalition of partners knew it was mission critical for us to band together on their behalf."

Points of Light, a nonprofit that helps mobilize volunteers, helped launch the initiative with the Corporation for National and Community Service and 55 veteran and military service organizations, nonprofits and government agencies.

The goal of the program is to give struggling vets someone to lean on for answers who has gone through a similarly fraught transition. Because while finding jobs is one of the most pressing issues facing veterans right now, navigating the often-bureaucratic VA system to secure benefits is another critical problem that can keep vets from leading healthy and productive lives.

“In the military, everything is structured. You have one place to get that information,” former Petty Officer 2nd Class Elizabeth Perez told the Army Times. “And when you come out you don’t have that same kind of structure.”

Perez, who’s now volunteering with vets in San Diego, said that when she returned home after serving in the Navy for nine years, she had no idea that she was about to lose a significant portion of her benefits.

To get the initiative off of the ground, ITT Exelis, a global aerospace, defense and information solutions company, pledged $5 million over the course of five years. The program aims to establish 200 cities and towns as “Community Blueprint” communities by 2014, according to the program's press release.

While funding and manpower are key in getting such a wide scale program to succeed, experts say that the veteran connection is what will distinguish this initiative from other ones similar to it.

“The Community Blueprint is based on the notion that veterans can often reach out and help other veterans in ways that others cannot,” said Stephanie Weiss, the chief marketing officer for Points of Light, told the Army Times.