We Must Stand Up for the Nation's Veterans - All Year Long and with Everything They Need

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On Veterans Day, veterans' accomplishments and challenges are in the spotlight. But those who work with our veterans, day in and day out, know they need much more than a single day of recognition. Our veterans and their families experience a myriad of challenges and opportunities as they transition from military to civilian life. Whether a service member met direct combat or processed re-enlistment packages, he or she can struggle to translate the important skills and training received in the armed services to the civilian employment landscape.

In fact, a 2013 study by Military Benefit Association, in conjunction with MetLife, found 79 percent of veterans who were unemployed and who have recently separated feel it is at least somewhat difficult to translate their military skills into something a civilian hiring manger can understand. This, coupled with the increased rates of mental health issues, substance abuse and homelessness, can make it especially difficult for veterans to secure meaningful employment. Military spouses often face unemployment too. They must put their careers on hold as their loved ones serve our nation. A study conducted by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families found that military spouses have an unemployment rate 3 times the national average. Furthermore, the report states that military spouses, if employed, make 38 percent less than their civilian counterparts.

One way we can help our veterans and their families is by working together to ensure we meet all of their needs. Goodwill organizations are participating in the Institute for Veterans and Military Families' AmericaServes network. Goodwill organizations are connected electronically to other nonprofit organizations to make sure that veterans and military families have seamless access to the services and resources that they need. The technology used not only serves as a referral system, but it also allows the community to measure its collective impact in the lives of our heroes and their families. Veterans and military families can more easily access the most appropriate services through this network, and it prevents them from falling through the cracks. Last year, in North Carolina, NCServes Metrolina served 1,200 veterans and military family members with the help of the Goodwill organizations in Charlotte and Winston-Salem.

By 2011, the unemployment rate for 9/11-era veterans had soared to 12 percent, with the youngest veterans faring the worst. In August of that year, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden implemented the Joining Forces initiative to connect military personnel, veterans and spouses with the resources they need to find jobs. That same year, Goodwill Industries International launched Goodwill for America's Heroes and Their Families to expand our military-focused services.

In April 2012, Goodwill launched Operation: GoodJobs. Funded by the Walmart Foundation, this initiative equips both veterans and military family members in 12 communities with complete career assessments and individualized development plans that also address a range of basic needs such as nutrition, shelter and child care. One year later, in June 2013, we launched Goodwill for America's Women Veterans with a goal of providing services specifically catering to female veterans.

Through these targeted initiatives and the efforts of our local organizations, Goodwill has employed 4,783 veterans and their family members; provided services to more than 231,530 veterans and their families; and helped 14,637 veterans and military family members connect with jobs in their communities. Earlier this year, on its fifth anniversary, Joining Forces announced, "More than 1.2 million veterans and military spouses have been hired or trained as a result of ongoing outreach." Perhaps most important, the unemployment rate for veterans is now lower than the national average.

Veterans and their families benefit most when they have access to programs that holistically address all of their needs, from employment and housing to psychological concerns and family issues. Because no one organization can meet all the needs, communities must reduce the chaos that prevents access by working together to coordinate services.

As we mark Veterans Day, please keep in mind that there are tangible things each of us can do to support veterans and their families, not just today but all year long. If you are a business owner or employer, you can make hiring and training veterans and understanding the unique circumstances of military families a priority at your organization. If you are in education, know that children of military families - many of whom will transfer through nine school districts on average - might need an extra hand. If you're in the health care field, be mindful that wounds for soldiers and families may lie deeper than those visible to the eye.

Lastly, know that your donations to and purchases from local Goodwill organizations go toward supporting our continuing efforts to serve the military men and women, veterans and families who've done so much to serve our country. I'm eager to see what all of us can do to together to help our veterans in the years to come. If you or a loved one would like more information about the resources available to veterans and their family members, please contact 1-800-GOODWILL.

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