An information clearinghouse could help veterans connect with organizations that want to help them, and help veterans charities coordinate efforts
Veterans charities have a noble mission, but a lack of coordination is hampering their cause. That’s why I am excited to have been invited to Washington, D.C., on March 27th to participate in a roundtable discussion led by U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud. We’ll be discussing ways private and public organizations can work together to provide more benefits to veterans, and how we can help veterans connect more quickly with the many, many organizations that are eager to help them.
I have encountered hundreds of different veterans charities over the course of my business career. In spite of their good intentions, many have overlapping priorities and duplicate efforts in a way that diminishes the assistance they are able to offer veterans. Gen. Eric Shinseki, who leads the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Ret. Vice Admiral Jeff Fowler have told me that they have encountered thousands of organizations that seek to help veterans.
The number of organizations reflects the desire of Americans to support their veterans, especially in times of war. Unfortunately, with that generosity being split so many ways, it limits the effectiveness of donor’s dollars.
That’s why I suggest creating a national clearinghouse that would bring private and public veterans organizations together and help them better communicate and coordinate their efforts.
The clearinghouse would have two major impacts:
• It would help veterans charities and other support organizations be more efficient and streamlined so that more money and support reaches veterans.
• It would provide a single place for veterans to go to learn about the support that is available to them.
The need for greater coordination
Americans donate generously to organizations that support veterans, and many of those organizations do great work, but many veterans are not getting the help they need. The job is undone, the mission incomplete.
When I left the Marines decades ago, on one side of the gate at Quantico I was a Marine, and when I stepped to the other side, I didn’t know who I was or what to do next. It’s still that way for today’s troops — Washington simply does not have the infrastructure in place to keep track of the millions of men and women who have served our country and help them transition back to civilian life. The military is unlikely to get government funding to address that problem, so military leaders and officials like Rep. Michaud have sought ideas from the private sector about ways to help.
The International Franchise Association’s VetFran program has served as an example. More than 1,100 companies have participated in the VetFran program, which offers discounts to veterans who are interested in owning a business. VetFran’s Operation Enduring Opportunity program also actively recruits veterans for jobs in franchising. VetFran helps connect veterans with individual franchises that are eager to help — and introducing veterans to the franchising opportunity has had a powerful impact. Since 2011, the programs have helped more than 5,000 veterans start franchises and have provided jobs for 145,000 more.
The IFA is committed to supporting our troops, but veterans confront a troubling reality: Historically, when the guns go silent, donations shrink — yet the needs of wounded veterans and their families remain. By creating a clearinghouse to help private and public organizations eliminate duplicated efforts, we can reduce the overhead costs associated with fundraising and administration and ensure that more support flows to veterans. By doing what the IFA has done with VetFran and creating an umbrella organization that connects veterans to relevant organizations, we can take the mystery out of finding help and transitioning to a new life.
Recognizing the skills our veterans offer
Another way the clearinghouse could help is by providing avenues that would allow veterans to earn certifications for the skills that they developed while serving. For instance, an Air Force mechanic in charge of properly maintaining and repairing a $50 million state-of-the-art helicopter may not leave the service with the proper certification to land a job as a mechanic, and a field medic who has saved lives under fire may not have the proper certification to get a job as an EMT. On top of that, certifications vary state-to-state. It’s ridiculous — and it reflects a core dysfunction that veterans face when they emerge from the service and learn that much of their skill and experience don’t count when it’s time to land a civilian job.
The clearinghouse could spearhead education and efforts to more closely align military certifications with private industry counterparts so that veterans could quickly move into jobs where they would be highly skilled and highly valued.
Veterans aren’t looking for a handout — they are simply looking for someone to point the way and help them take the first steps toward a new life.
I thank Rep. Michaud for taking the lead in this effort, and I look forward to joining the congressman in Washington, D.C.