By Rebekah Seder, Program Manager
With the war in Iraq over and Afghanistan winding down, we know that there is an oncoming wave of service members returning home, many of whom will be moving to our region. Supporting the unique needs of veterans is a fast growing area of interest in philanthropy, including among our region’s grantmaking community. Many returning veterans and their families will face myriad challenges, from issues relating to physical wounds and mental health issues, to finding civilian employment and affordable housing. A recent discussion with WRAG members revealed that there are a number of issues that local grantmakers are grappling with as they develop their strategies for supporting veterans.
Most importantly, there is a real gap in data about veterans in our region. Who are they? When are they returning? Where are they going to live? Many of these basic questions that would help our region’s philanthropic community better position itself to serve veterans are still unanswered. There is a need for more data on returning service members from the military, as well as for better data collection and sharing between local jurisdictions, nonprofits, and funders. One funder noted that they – and likely most others – don’t routinely ask their grantees who don’t explicitly serve veterans, such as food banks, housing providers, or workforce training programs, how many veterans are among their clientele. Simple steps like this could help paint a better picture of our region’s veteran population.
Another commonly cited experience among grantmakers is a need for a new kind of cultural competence. Members of the military have dedicated their lives to serving their country. They are used to being in the role of helper. So, for some, there is a stigma about now asking for help, meaning grantmakers and others have to be mindful in how they frame their work. Plus, with the well-publicized difficulties of securing VA benefits, many newly returning veterans aren’t seeking them or have given up trying to. Finally, civilians and the military don’t always seem to speak the same language. For grantmakers and others without a military background, there can be a steep learning curve when trying to connect with the military.
WRAG members: WRAG plans to reconvene funders interested in veterans issues again this fall. If there is a particular area of interest for you, contact Rebekah Seder.