Finding the Full Potential of Veterans, Service Members, and Their Families

By Michaela Diallo M.Ed, Team Leader at PAServes Greater Pittsburgh

In 1943, Abraham Maslow published “A Theory of Human Motivation,” a paper in psychology that described the patterns through which human motivations tend to move. His research included a hierarchy of needs pyramid with the most basic of human needs being physiological and the most complex being self-actualization. Essentially, it said that humans need basic resources for survival, like food and shelter, before they can move upward to job security, steady relationships, self-esteem, and ultimately their full potential.

In 2017, Matt Feldhaus, program manager of community engagement for the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University and program leader for PAServes Greater Pittsburgh, often makes references to Maslow’s hierarchy when we discuss veteran resources. As the team leader for PAServes Greater Pittsburgh, I spend a lot of time with Matt helping veterans climb the hierarchy. But at one point, Matt was the veteran looking for help. He struggled in his post-service life without a network that understood how to serve his needs. PAServes Greater Pittsburgh exists so others like Matt don’t suffer similarly.

I think of the veterans who have enrolled at PAServes and how the services we provide build a base for any veteran who needs help. Possibly some entered through the VA Court system, some in more dire situations were homeless when they came to us; some were on the other end of the spectrum and just looking for a better job. All were trying to find a way to live fulfilling lives. Connecting those veterans to their more basic needs of employment, income, and personal health allowed the opportunity to move forward and connect with their higher-level needs. By getting them connected to the social organizations in our network veterans, service members, and their families begin to rise up the hierarchy.

To continue this climb, I thought it was time to explore the “Mentoring and Meeting Other Veterans” space so we could connect veterans to the higher-tier needs and help them make social connections with other veterans. The latest PAServes Focus Group meeting was held on June 28 on the topic of Mentorship Programs. This meeting allowed veterans in the Greater Pittsburgh area to connect with benefits services, financial services, and employment services they need. We had eight different veteran serving organizations represented at the meeting, including the Vet Center, Operation Homefront, U.S. Army Reserve – Army Readiness Specialist, Mission Continues, The Mentoring Program at Veterans Leadership Program (VLP), Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), Team RWB, and Soldier On. All successful veteran-service programs, in their own right, but all disconnected without PAServes Greater Pittsburgh to bring them together.

Our network helped the meeting succeed. The organizations discussed their new or updated programming in the area of mentoring. For example, we learned that Soldier On has a peer mentoring program that goes beyond their general case management by social workers and sets up veterans themselves as the peer mentors to other veterans who need one-on-one support. We also learned about an upcoming family day event at the U.S. Army Reserve Base, another opportunity for veteran-to-veteran support and growth for military-related individuals. We were invited to an upcoming event that Wounded Warrior Project was hosting, continuously stacking up the resources available. We learned more about the VLP Mentoring program, whose goal is to provide mentoring to the veterans in vet court that expressed a strong need for referrals of veterans who want to volunteer to be mentors. Our network reach effectively connects veterans to other veterans interested in this mentor opportunity. Therefore, these benefits are two fold, helping one of our partner organizations improve their program while simultaneously providing veterans serving as mentors fulfillment in the positive feelings that go along with helping others.

This seemingly basic meeting serves a complex scenario. A scenario where veterans, service members, and their families are lost digging through hundreds of military service organizations trying to find the benefits and services most suited to their needs for fulfillment. If veterans cannot meet their needs like job security or financial stability, the desire to be self-actualized is impossible. As a member of the PAServes Greater Pittsburg team and the nationwide AmericaServes network, I am proud to be able to connect veterans like Matt with the proper resources to climb their own pyramids.

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