The following is a guest opinion piece published in the Idaho Statesman on November 10th, 2017. LINK TO ARTICLE
As we mark Veterans Day, it’s good to take a few moments to reflect on how we in Idaho might create a new, more relevant and practical process for helping recently separated military service members make the transition back to civilian life.
I’m the program director for Mission43, a partnership of four premier veteran service organizations dedicated to ensuring that former military and military spouses in Idaho, the 43rd state, have the resources to excel academically, in their next career and in the community.
Ultimately, we want our veterans to lead, learn and inspire.
Why did we create Mission43? The simplest answer is that we wanted to help fill a void between what the mandated transition process and traditional veteran service organizations provide and what we know from experience that veterans actually need and want.
As a veteran, I know first-hand that the transition from post-9/11 military to civilian life can be difficult. Finding a career that can fulfill the sense of purpose we are used to may require going back to school or moving your family to an unfamiliar community. These changes come abruptly when departing the fast-paced military lifestyle, and they can be disorienting for the veteran and family alike.
Although the federal government mandates that all separating service members take part in the five-day Transition Assistance Program workshop, it’s not unusual to hear from veterans that the training seemed largely irrelevant as they began their transition, and a poor use of their time.
Also, the mandated transition process does not connect military families back to local communities, a major deficiency. For example, a departing serviceman or woman leaving Fort Bragg in North Carolina typically has to coordinate community contacts on his or her own somewhere else. It’s unfortunate, but these federal programs lack accountability and coordination with local resources and providers.
Veterans want opportunities, not handouts. And Mission43 exists to offer opportunities. It’s up to each individual veteran to take advantage of these opportunities. We offer a helping hand, but not hand-holding.
Through research, we know that education and employment are the most pressing needs. So access to employment opportunities and continuing education are the core of what we provide.
By recruiting high-performing national veteran service organizations to establish a full-time local presence in Idaho, Mission43 has established four pillars we consider essential to a successful transition: employment, purpose, connection and education.
Hire Heroes USA is our employment pillar. It offers one-on-one coaching with a transition specialist for veterans and spouses, free workshops focused on creating effective tools to earn gainful employment for new veterans, and cultivation of employers.
Team Rubicon is the organization at the heart of our purpose pillar. It pulls together groups of veterans to respond to natural disasters.
Team Red White and Blue helps veterans connect to one another and like-minded community members through physical fitness and social activities.
Mission43 has also forged a partnership with Guild Education, an organization that provides each veteran with a personal adviser. The adviser works with the veteran to determine the best online degree option at one of six partner colleges, and then helps navigate the application process. Once the veteran is enrolled, the adviser checks in with him/her weekly. This system has resulted in almost unmatched 90 percent retention and graduation rates.
We also stress to veterans that spouses play an equally important role in serving their country, and therefore we support them in their transition with the same opportunities the veterans receive.
Mission43 provides Idaho veterans and their families with a coordinated and highly effective network of organizations that not only eases the transition from military to civilian life, but helps ensure that veterans connect deeply with their communities, and lead fulfilling, purposeful lives.
Bryan Madden is the director of Mission43, a Boise-based veterans service organization.