VOA Engaging Veterans to Create Solutions through Opportunity

Posted September 24, 2014

Written by:

Jon Sherin

Executive Vice President, Military Communities & Chief Medical Officer

Volunteers of America

In the human service sector, much of our work today focuses on serving veterans struggling with homelessness, PTSD and other barriers that interfere with a successful return to civilian life. While this remains core to our effort, we at Volunteers of America are part of a rapidly growing movement that is engaging veterans to create solutions through opportunity.

For example, we have been piloting a program that leverages veterans as peer advocates who are specifically charged with dismantling barriers plaguing the health and human service sector. This program, the “Battle-Buddy-Bridge” or “B3”, trains, deploys and dispatches veterans as “battle buddies” who engage and provide resource navigation to fellow service members in distress.

While there are a number of peer-to-peer veteran programs throughout the country, Volunteers of America’s B3 efforts are unique because they leverage our well-established partnerships, seasoned expertise and extensive infrastructure. As such, Volunteers of America’s battle buddies have direct access to our network of services including: care coordination, case management, housing, training, employment placement, legal/benefits assistance, financial coaching, counseling and more.

This approach has already proven itself to be successful in transforming the lives of veterans like Nicola, a United States Air Force vet who spent 10 years battling for her VA benefits before she was paired with a battle buddy, Faye Lattimore-Shilling. “I had been told for years that I did not qualify for medical benefits because I was a reservist, ” said Nicola. This quickly changed, though, after Mrs. Shilling started to help Nicola navigate the VA hierarchy. “She verified my benefits … and took me to get my identification card. I could not believe that I was walking out of the office within 10 minutes after taking my picture. I had been given the runaround for years prior to her help! I cannot tell you how grateful I truly am.”

The program has also been tremendously therapeutic for the battle buddies themselves. “Helping other vets who are so much like me has given me more motivation than I’ve had since being in the Army,” said battle buddy John James. “Some days are surreal and I think ‘who am I to be sharing with them what to do when for so long I wouldn’t do it myself.’ I tell them that I was there too, and not very long ago was in the same place they are and it WILL get better. I will continue in the mode of helping and trying to make a difference in the world. I am now open to new adventures and have the confidence to move forward and not live life looking back.”

Veterans as a group are great allies of ours in the health and human services sector. Given this fact, Volunteers of America has long-term interest in creating more and more opportunities for veterans to work with and for us in pursuit of our mission to uplift America’s most vulnerable.