Remembering and honoring the men and women who have given their lives in service to our country should involve more than speeches, wreathes, and department store sales. Anyone who has lost a loved one to war understands the devastation of combat. Those who survive the battles often return with a lifetime of physical and emotional injuries. Instead of receiving special care when they come home, our veterans all too often find themselves on the fringes of the society they fought to protect. This includes a denial of medical care, emotional and psychiatric problems, joblessness, homelessness, incarceration and suicide.
We must look for ways to remedy this situation. One step in the right direction is VetsBridge.com, launched in May 2014 to address the issue of unemployment among our nation’s military veterans. VetsBridge.com is an online career-acquisition service that uses a unique algorithm to match military veterans with employers and job openings. This website is making its technology available to veterans throughout the country free of charge and to companies and employers who are seeking to match veterans with civilian careers. Programs such as this are badly needed, given that there currently some 570,000 unemployed veterans in the U.S.
With this program, veterans can access career opportunities whenever they are ready to begin their job search. They can create a profile and search for career opportunities in preferred locations even before completing their military service, knowing that the process is much more confidential than submitting résumés to unknown sources. A completed profile stays active in the system until the veteran decides otherwise, continuously attracting and initiating matches.
VetsBridge is different from other veteran employment services because it identifies civilian career opportunities in which an individual’s unique military skill set is easily transferable and applicable. This streamlines the employment process by eliminating the need to search through job boards for appropriate opportunities and to compose and submit résumés. It also ensures employers that the veterans they hire are qualified for the positions they are matched with.
A commitment beyond employment services
In addition to helping our returning veterans find jobs and transition into civilian employment, VetsBridge has helped create the New York State Defenders Association’s Veterans Defense Program (VDP) and has committed funds for the ongoing operation of the program and for special veterans’ needs. The VDP assists returning veterans whose service-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) or substance abuse have led to their facing charges in the civilian criminal justice system. VetsBridge also sponsored a May 2013 weekend conference on veteran rights titled, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home and Gets Arrested.” Among the presentations at the conference was a powerful film featuring interviews with participants in the Veterans Residential Therapeutic Program at the Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility in upstate New York. (View the film here.)
In his December 2013 keynote address to the inaugural conference sponsored by the “Justice for Vets” division of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, former U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki told conference attendees that on any given night 58,000 veterans are estimated to be homeless and that this homelessness is often linked to incarceration. Secretary Shinseki went on to say, “If we are going to break the cycle between incarceration and homelessness, we will have to raise our level of collaboration and leverage all our assets to address these factors, which seem so pervasive when dealing with troubled veterans.”
As of 2013, there were 700,00 veterans in America’s prisons and jails, most of whom were suffering from PTSD, TBI or alcohol and drug abuse. Add to these grim statistics the large number of unemployed veterans and the picture becomes clear. When our heroes come home they are dealt a triple blow—a perfect storm of joblessness, incarceration and homelessness. They go from serving honorably to being treated by the country they defended in a most dishonorable way.
VetsBridge.com and its principals have stepped up and have gone well beyond employment procurement in assisting troubled veterans. In 2014, for example, as part of our commitment to the NYSDA Veterans Defense Program, we made the restitution payment to a victim in a case involving a 25-year-old veteran. The veteran, suffering from combat-related PTSD and TBI from three tours in Afghanistan, had been charged in a warehouse breaking-and-entering in upstate New York that involved property damage. Through our efforts, the veteran received quality legal representation and through our direct payment of his restitution, the court reduced his sentence from a maximum of thirty-three years in state prison to a maximum of three.
Join us in our endeavor
Commemorating Veterans Day should include action, not just words and symbols. And the action has to be directed at the three scourges facing our returning veterans—joblessness, incarceration, and homelessness.
We invite employers, veterans, and veteran resource organizations to join VetsBridge in its multidimensional approach to assisting our returning heroes by contributing to the New York State Defenders Association Veterans Defense Project, www.nysda.org. We all must open our minds and hearts to these honorable men and women in their time of need.