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Under one umbrella

Database links veterans with service providers

Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib addresses attendees at the March 2 kickoff event for WAServes at the Museum of Flight. Photo courtesy Lieutenant Governor's office

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This March, the Schultz Family Foundation gave a boost to statewide efforts to support veterans with the launch of WAServes. Launched in partnership with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University, it's part of the growing AmericaServes network.

The idea for the network itself is pretty straightforward. It identifies all veteran service providers in a local area, whether they be public, private or nonprofit, and create a database that both veterans and service providers can do to make referrals.

The hope is to capitalize on what many advocates refer to the "sea of goodwill" aimed at helping veterans. There are currently more than 40,000 registered nonprofits in the United States focused mainly on helping veterans - 247 of those have assets of $1 million or more.

However, many are specialized and aren't always sure how to help veterans with problems that fall outside of their specialty, nor do they know where to send somebody. AmericaServes, which was developed by IVMF, can help streamline that process and connect disparate groups.

"It's not always about building something new," explained J. Michael Haynie, IVMF's executive director and founder who also serves as Syracuse's vice chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation.

Haynie explained that it's not usually that resources are lacking, it's that veterans as well as service providers often struggle to navigate the many organizations and services available. It would be building on a track record of success, it would be the eighth iteration of AmericaServes. NYServes, for example, is now fully supported by the New York City mayor's office.

"The only way this works is if the community leads it and owns it," Haynie said. However, for many local veteran advocates, there's little concerns that the Puget Sound's veterans community is up to the task.

In fact, some pointed out that it's odd that the Puget Sound area, home to the Schultz Foundation, numerous military installations and one of the nation's fastest growing veteran populations. Jason Reindorp, a spokesperson, however, insisted that it was foremost on Howard Shultz's mind and that he injected "healthy sense of impatience" into the effort.

Veterans advocates say Washington is ready. "You have very local, very earnest efforts to help veterans," explained John McCary, a combat veteran who served in U.S. Army intelligence who joined the Schultz Foundation last year as a veteran program officer.

One of the key players in WAServes is the WestCare Foundation, which Schultz Foundation representatives said will act as the "quarterback" for the network. Many credit John Lee, former head of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs and senior vice president of WestCare Washington with setting up the network.

"It was an honor to be selected by the Puget Sound veteran service community to manage the network and run the coordination center," Lee said in a statement, accompanying the launch of the network. "Our experience working with federal, state and nonprofit veteran service providers helped us assemble an incredibly strong network under the WAServes umbrella, and we're looking forward together to serve the veteran community."

McCary said that this is particularly important for "multi-need" veterans, who could be juggling anything from physical injuries, mental illness, financial burdens and/or legal problems. The hope is to make the process of finding help seamless and painless as possible for everyone involved. "You sign up once and you're done," McCary said. That can make a huge difference at a time where many veterans are struggling to reintegrate.

Nationally, the Department of Veterans Affairs is under intense scrutiny and the Trump Administration has made big promises about reforms and helping veterans. At present, unemployment and suicide rates are alarmingly high as many vets fall through the cracks. For those leaving the military today, it often seems like finding the right resources or getting a job is about being lucky enough to know the right people.

Washington state lieutenant governor Cyrus Habib was present for the WAServes launch event March 2. In an address to attendees, he reflected on growing up as the blind son of Iranian immigrants who took on cancer and won.

Despite his disadvantages, he said he was lucky to have the resources and opportunities to overcome and succeed. While he said that he's appreciative of what he had, he said there's no excuse for anyone to allow veterans to slip through the cracks. "If you are a veteran and you served this country, you shouldn't have to be lucky," he told the crowd.

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