DExecuting the Plan
Convening Partner Organizations
Identify and convene veteran-focused organizations for initial discussion, input, and planning, with the goal of establishing partnerships. Consider including active VSOs, public agencies with robust veterans programs, and volunteer organizations that are knowledgeable about the issues. Depending on their type of organization, partners might play one of the following roles: providing input into the initiative’s design, contributing content for training topics, providing information on veteran-focused services they offer for the Resource Guide, contributing lists of services already collected, or providing ongoing support to volunteers and the returning veterans as needed.
Identifying Returning Veterans
Work with a local military installation commander, National Guard office, or state VA office to ensure that newly returning service members are made aware of the opportunity to participate in Operation Reintegration. Due to privacy concerns, official government and military entities cannot share names directly, but local military and government partners can advise on the best way for veteran volunteers to make their connections. For example, it may be helpful to ask an installation commander to conduct a simple poll that asks members of returning units if they anticipate housing, jobs, legal or financial difficulties upon return, and if they would like to be paired with a peer mentor. These commanders may also be willing to link newly separating servicemen and women to mentors as part of the transition process.
Events such as airport homecomings, “hail and farewell” events to recognize servicemen and women who are leaving the military, and “yellow ribbon” welcome home ceremonies are places where volunteers can make contact with new veterans. An additional approach may be to establish and publicize the initiative by partnering with institutions that provide a physical space to host volunteers such as: universities, colleges, community centers, VA hospitals, homeless shelters, or other locations easily accessible or already well-known to returning veterans. Sign-up and registration procedures should be easily accessible; some veterans, perhaps wary of social stigmas of asking for help, may not self-identify their own specific needs.
Compiling The Resource Guide
If it does not already exist in the city, the mayor’s office should develop a comprehensive guide to local resources for veterans. These service providers can be based in your community or be affiliates of the tens of thousands of veterans organizations across the country. Compile a list of programs and services available through public agencies, veterans organizations, and other relevant community organizations that are specifically designed for veterans and their families or likely to be particularly useful to them and note information on preferences and discounts for veterans. For each organization, include a brief description of the program or service provided, eligibility requirements, and application process; as needed, provide contact information for the specific department/individual that processes referrals for veterans. Organize the information clearly by program topic and consider posting it online in an easily accessible location.
Draw on lists already compiled by local partners, if available, making sure to add programs specific to your city and include a contact person for referrals so as to make the referral process as smooth as possible for the newly returned veterans. Keep the Resource Guide current by reviewing and updating its content several times a year.
Begin by looking for programs and resources in the following critical and basic need areas:
- Finding and applying for benefits
- Physical health and rehabilitation
- Mental health and post-traumatic recovery
- Job training and employment
- Family and social services, ranging from marriage counseling to child care
- Legal and financial services and counseling
- Education and college
- Housing and home loan support
- Substance abuse and addiction
Meet with general service providers to document how veterans can access their services and to explain Operation Reintegration. Many agencies or organizations provide services critical to veterans’ reintegration but do not focus on veterans or have requirements that make participation difficult for veterans (e.g., housing placement, job training, family counseling, financial counseling). Develop an understanding of their services, eligibility requirements, intake processes, and any preferences for veterans. Discuss the best way to make referrals. As a relationship is established, the mayor’s office may also help educate these agencies on how to improve their services for veterans.
Engaging Volunteers As Peer Mentors
Develop and provide volunteer training: Volunteer mentors should be trained on the content of the Resource Guide, what it means to be a peer mentor, how to conduct outreach, and what resources are available both for their own support and to solve more complicated situations that may arise in the lives of the veterans they are mentoring. Include step-by-step instructions on program logistics regarding referrals, follow-up, and maintaining contact records (the latter is important for measuring the impact of this initiative). Training might be provided by staff at a community partner or could be offered by professionals at a local training organization or community college. Local partners can help determine the frequency of training and organize the training program to establish a pipeline of volunteer mentors for the initiative.
Veteran volunteers engage returning veterans: At the heart of the program, veterans from the community volunteer their time and experience to serve as peer mentors, reaching out to returning veterans to help them successfully reintegrate into civilian life. Volunteers contact new veterans, explain the program, and offer their help.
Through discussions with the returning veteran, the peer mentor gains an understanding of his/her needs and ascertains what resources in the community are best suited to provide help. Using the Resource Guide, the volunteer may be able to suggest new resources for the returning veteran and can help their mentee understand how to access programs and what he/she should expect from the processes.
Volunteer peer mentors should keep a record of every contact and follow-up with each veteran after 30, 60, and 90 days and every two months thereafter until the returning veteran feels that he or she is well on the path to civilian reintegration. As much as possible, the volunteer should work with the initiative’s network of specialist partners to meet the needs of those being served before any crises emerge.
Support the veteran volunteers: The mayor’s office or key partners maintain regular contact with volunteers to support them during their period of service, including providing opportunities to share experiences with other volunteer mentors, receive additional or refresher training, and provide feedback. Partner organizations are available to provide ongoing support to the volunteer as necessary to resolve any urgent issues or situations that arise for the mentored veterans. Volunteers may also need personal support to cope with emotional difficulties that may surface as they fulfill their role as a peer mentor.
Fundraising For Operation Reintegration
Operation Reintegration is a compelling fundraising opportunity for foundations and corporations with a commitment to the successful reintegration of veterans and their families. Cities implementing Operation Reintegration should cultivate local sponsorship opportunities to help cover costs of the program (e.g., printed materials or meals during training events).
The elements of a typical proposal include:
- Description of the Operation Reintegration initiative
- How this initiative would positively impact returning veterans and their families (e.g., the value of a veteran mentor, increased access to veteran resources, smoother transitions)
- Amount of funding requested and how those funds would be used (e.g. paying for supplies or printed materials)
- Metrics that would be collected to assess progress
- Information on Cities of Service (especially helpful for national funders)
- Recognition plan for the donor (e.g., logo on printed materials or the city’s service website, verbal thanks in the training session, or acknowledgement at a public event)
Be sure to provide sponsors with feedback on the results, including photos and metrics information as Operation Reintegration is carried out. In some cases, private funders may not want to provide funding directly to city governments. If those instances, the city should seek out a local nonprofit partner to receive the funds.
Recognizing And Thanking Volunteers
Recognize, thank, and honor the veteran volunteers and the veteran community they serve. The mayor’s office and its partners can recognize all volunteers with a letter of thanks upon completion of a finite commitment or provide annual recognition for long-term volunteers. Consider nominating volunteers for service awards or recognizing participants in the initiative during ceremonies on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, or Independence Day. Consult and coordinate with local VSOs on what forms of recognition are likely to be the most meaningful and appropriate for the veteran volunteers.