“It’s not that I don’t want to help our Veterans. It’s that I don’t know how to help.”
You might be surprised to know how often I hear those words.
And that lamentation usually comes from a very genuine place. I know because I have seen firsthand how eager organizations and individuals across the country are to help Veterans in their communities get back on their feet. Many just don’t know where to start.
That’s why Military Outreach USA developed the Adopt-a-VA program. The program connects community organizations — such as schools, faith-based groups, and local businesses — and residents who are interested in supporting Veterans in their communities with a local VA medical center (VAMC) or community-based outpatient clinic (CBOC). These local adopters commit to helping VA provide support to area Veterans and their families who are experiencing homelessness, at risk of becoming homeless or exiting homelessness.
Collaboration drives success
VA has a host of programs and services that help Veterans experiencing or at-risk of homelessness obtain housing, employment, and wrap around services that put them on track for long-term success. It is through these programs — like Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) and Homeless Veterans Community Employment Services — that VA has helped cut Veteran homeless by nearly 50 percent since 2010.
But VA can’t end Veteran homelessness on its own; that will take sustained, coordinated effort from us all. As grateful Americans, we have a responsibility to do all that we can to make sure no Veteran sleeps on the streets when they return home.
So, while VA is charged with caring for those who have borne the battle, we too can help. And with the Adopt-a-VA program, it is easier than you may think.
Small actions, big impact
Veterans who are homeless or who have recently exited homelessness lack the basics many of us take for granted, like personal hygiene items, towels, small appliances, a bed, and more. To help fill these needs, community organizations and individuals can join the Adopt-a-VA program, where adopters are contacted by their local VA facility to donate services, support local events, or participate in other efforts to help vulnerable Veterans as needs arise.
Adopters may receive requests to:
- Donate or purchase household items, such as furniture and small appliances
- Assist in a clothing or move-in essentials drive
- Provide assistance delivering donated items
- Staff a booth or hand out materials at a community event
- Spread the word about VA services and resources available to Veterans and their families
These seemingly small actions can have a profound impact on a Veteran who has recently exited homelessness. Having the items to set up their new residence, the hygiene items to prepare for a job interview, or a friendly face to talk to at a resource fair doesn’t just improve a Veterans quality of life – it can also increase their self-confidence and independence.
Everyone can help
Communities across the country are already helping homeless Veterans in need through these partnerships with local VA facilities. An elementary school in Bolingbrook, Illinois hosted a move-in essentials drive in honor of Veterans Day; local volunteers in Battle Creek, Michigan gave their time to assist with delivering beds to a Veterans transitional housing project; and community members came together in San Francisco, California to purchase a bed for a Veteran who has been sleeping on the floor of his apartment for five years.
But you don’t have to coordinate a community-wide effort or purchase new furniture to support the Adopt-a-VA program. You can spread the word about VA services and resources, hand out materials at a community event, or donate lightly used household items. Even local businesses are stepping up in creative ways: In Chicago, a kitchenware manufacturer realized that instead of throwing away lightly used plates from its test facility, it could donate these household items to Veterans exiting homelessness as they get back on their feet.
Any community organization or individual can support the Adopt-a-VA program – there is no financial obligation. Whether you are small business owner, VA employee, or member of a local church, school or rotary club, we can all do something to help end Veteran homelessness.
I’ve been shown time and again that there truly is no limit to our generosity as Americans, especially when it comes to serving those who have given us so much. Together, we make sure that every Veteran has a place to call home.
To learn more about Military Outreach USA’s Adopt-a-VA program and to register as an adopter, please visit www.adopt-a-va.com.
Joseph Palmer is the executive director for Military Outreach USA. He served in the United States Air Force from 1966-1972 as a security police K-9 handler with service in Okinawa, Vietnam and the Philippines. He has been active in developing programs for Veterans and his most recent publication deals with the subject of Moral Injury: They Don’t Receive Purple Hearts. Joseph serves on the VA Voluntary Services Committee for Jesse Brown VA Medical Center as well as the Veterans Advisory Counsel to the Illinois Treasurer’s Office.