Written by James Schmeling, IVMF Managing Director & Co-founder
On Friday, April 20, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF), in cooperation with Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle (NY-25), held the Conference on Engaging Community Support for Veterans. More than 150 participants, 12 panelists and 15 veteran support organizations came together to engage and share, while covering key issues such as community health and reintegration; economic engagement, employment, and entrepreneurship; and post-secondary and vocational education.
Most important, the conference made connections between community leaders who are equipped with the tools and resources to help veterans reintegrate into society during the post-service life course. It begins a dialogue of cross-sector support that goes beyond the individual programs that each of us works in every day, moving towards an integrated community that may best address the needs of our veterans and families.
As our partner in this event, the Honorable Ann Marie Buerkle observed, “It is no one person or one organization’s responsibility to assist our veterans; everyone in the community must be engaged in doing so…We must all work together to ensure that our veterans receive the care and support they need.”
The Honorable Jeff Miller (FL-01), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, served as special guest and keynote speaker. During his visit to Syracuse, Congressman Miller remarked that he saw “a community ready and willing to help our veterans…to make their transition as seamless as possible.”
Fifteen veteran support organizations staffed exhibitor tables at the conference, to share their information and services with attendees. These organizations ranged from University resources including the IVMF, the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, the iSchool’s Veterans Technology Program, the South Side Innovation Center, the SU Student Veterans Association, David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics and its School of Social Work, to local, regional and national organizations Clear Path for Veterans, Team Red, White and Blue, Project Healing Waters, Operation V.I.S.T.A, From the Ground Up, Employment Support of the Guard and Reserve, Onondaga Veteran Service Agency, Syracuse Veterans Administration and the Vet Center.
Panelists gave expert commentary on topics related to veteran reintegration and support of their communities. Throughout the course of the proceedings, they shared comments and observations, like the following:
- Ms. Corri Zoli, Research Assistant Professor, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, SU: “As college and universities, we are on the frontline of helping veterans transition into civilian life through our programs.”
- Ms. Maureen Casey, Executive Director, Veterans and Military Affairs, JPMorgan Chase & Co.: “The 100,000 Jobs Mission will hold targeted hiring events in order to simplify the hiring process for veterans, and in the end match veterans with jobs that will highlight their skills.”
- Mr. Mark Erwin, student veteran, Maxwell School, SU: “Veterans find great support, a sense of community and familiarity in the student veteran support centers on college campuses.”
- Mr. Tony Baird, President, Tony Baird Electronics Inc., “These veterans are getting a sense that someone cares about them…they just want a caring ear.”
- Colonel James D. McDonough Jr. (U.S. Army, Retired), Senior Fellow for Veterans Affairs, New York State Health Foundation, “Veterans have earned and deserve benefits, and should receive such benefits.”
- Dr. Abigail Gewirtz, Associate Professor, Department of Family and Social Science, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, introduced us to ADAPT (After Deployment Adaptive Parenting Tools), a strategy for effective parenting for returning service members.
- Ms. Lauren Love, program manager for Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom at the Syracuse VA Medical Center, highlighted benefits that the VA currently provides for veterans and hopes that it will continue to grow.
We have received tremendously positive feedback from everyone involved with the conference, and while this feedback is very important to us, what is far more crucial is continued collaboration and public dialogue to ensure community awareness of the services available to veterans and their families, and to the changing needs of our nation’s returning service members. This is extremely critical as we prepare for the troop drawn down in our post-9/11 world, after more than a decade at war.
The IVMF will continue to serve as a convener of community dialogue focused on our nation’s veterans and military families. We will also continue to leverage what higher education already does well—teach, train, and inspire—to seed programs and events and continued public discourse and policy to provide our veterans and their families with the skills needed to be successful in work and life.
We remain optimistic about the future of our veterans and positively encouraged by the reaction to the Conference on Engaging Community Support for Veterans. And we must keep that momentum going, so that our ability to link veterans and their families to existing programs, and the ongoing development of impactful, supportive services, will continue to play a vital role in the greater success of our nation
To join our community of stakeholders and participate in our events, please email us, join our Facebook community or set up a time to come and discuss your work and ours, and how we can engage you with our broad stakeholder community.
James Schmeling is managing director and co-founder of the IVMF.