Returning Veteran Initiative
RETURNING VETERAN INITIATIVE CONTINUES TO IMPROVE SERVICES FOR OUR VETERANS
Through a mounting number of news articles both nationally and locally, public and private testimony and observation, it became increasingly evident that the foundation for a smooth transition for our returning veterans was not in place. The veterans returning to the local community represent the very best our nation and state have to offer, yet too many were struggling as they worked to re-enter civilian society. This continues to be especially true for those carrying the burdens of war-related injuries and illnesses. Former City of Houston Mayor Bill White and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett called together leaders of all levels of government (federal, state, and local) along with military, faith-based, nonprofit, education, media, and service organizations. The goal was to identify the depth of issues through testimony from our returning soldiers, and to gather information from experts and other concerned parties.
As a result of the first summit, a database of attending individuals and groups was compiled, and four committees were formed to address the issues: Logistics of Living, Education and Career, Interaction with Public Assistance Programs, and Mentoring. These committees focused their attention on the needs of men and women returning to the Greater Houston area from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). At the second summit, in addition to further fact-finding, the committee chairpersons reported their findings on gaps in services. Procedures were set in motion to resolve service gaps, and methods were identified to resolve the remaining issues. An RVI website was launched in November 2007 by the Interaction with Public Assistance Programs committee. This website is now integrated into this page and focused on issues pertinent to our recently returning veterans.
Creation of City Office of Veterans' Affairs:
Former Mayor Bill White created of the City of Houston Office of Veterans' Affairs in October 2007. The mission of the office is to assist all veterans of the United States Armed Forces through advocacy, referral and counseling, to ensure that neither they, nor their dependents, nor survivors are denied access to the entitlements promised to them by a grateful nation. Since inception of this office, over 350 phone calls, emails and/or referrals from veterans and/or family members dealing with a variety of issues have been answered. This office works in cooperation with the Harris County Veteran's Services Officer (VSO), Vincent Morrison, as well as other VSOs, veteran organizations and community partners to meet the needs of our service members and veterans, particularly in the area of Veterans Administration benefits and services.
Veterans Resources Directory:
Shortly after the first summit, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett assigned members of his staff to coordinate with summit committee members and other community service providers to produce a Veterans Resources Directory, detailing services available to all of the men and women who have served in our nation's armed forces. It would particularly be directed at services available for those recently returning to their homes, families, jobs, and communities from their service in Iraq and Afghanistan . Judge Emmett unveiled the comprehensive resource guide November 15, 2007. The directory, "Navigating the Road to Services for Returning Veterans," lists hundreds of governmental, nonprofit, and faith-based organizations that provide financial, legal, educational, housing, transportation, employment, health care, and other services. In addition, the Harris County Community Services Department developed a foldout wallet-sized version from the resources listed in the "Navigating the Road to Services for Returning Veterans" directory.
Veterans, their families, employers and counselors can now obtain the printed resource directory, including a foldout wallet-sized version, both in hard copy from the City and County Veteran Service Offices, and online at the websites www.csd.hctx.net at the County, www.houstontx.gov/vetaffairs at the City.
Information Expos, Community Meetings, and the Press:
The County and City Veteran's Office staffs are working together to organize Informational Expos with representatives from veteran service organizations covering employment, education, housing and other resources available to veterans and their families. These Info/Expos are being publicized, and they are scheduled at regular intervals, to get current and positive information out to veterans and their families. The City and County veteran offices have partnered with the Veterans Administration's (VA) Hospital and Regional Office, the Texas Military Forces, the State of Texas Veteran 's Commission and Veteran's Land Board, as well as numerous veterans' groups and service organizations. The veteran offices are helping to coordinate job fairs, working to build employment opportunities, giving presentations to veteran groups and service organizations. They are also working with partners in the press to publicize veteran issues, present event information and outreach to area veterans and their support networks.