Helping our veterans
Returning to civilian life is tough for many.
Turning in your weapon, taking off the uniform and returning to civilian life is probably the biggest challenge a warrior faces after years of service, especially if he or she has seen combat.
When the United Nations supervises a peace agreement, it calls the process DDR: disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. DDR programs often involve weeks spent in transition camps where former fighters unwind from military life and learn new skills that will help them find civilian jobs. Social workers then monitor the ex-combatants for months to ensure they find homes, jobs and communities.
By comparison, U.S. soldiers get seven days of reintegration training when they return from combat, and five days of preparation for civilian life. For many, the transition is a culture shock, and their new employers often struggle to know how to help.
Many major companies have made admirable commitments to veterans and are prepared to help. JPMorgan Chase offers a 12-week Military Veteran Internship Program that gives those with bachelor’s degrees the chance to transition into the financial sector.
Walmart has promised jobs to all veterans discharged since Memorial Day 2013 as long as they meet the company’s standard hiring criteria. Since then, the retailer has hired more than 188,000 veterans and promoted 24,000. Boeing has given $5 million to a USO program to help 210,000 veterans transition to civilian life over the next three years.
These are admirable programs, but oftentimes newly discharged service members don’t know what they want to do with their lives. Many enlisted members went straight from their
Veterans “want a chance to give back, to have a purpose.” Brian Wilson, a former Army medic
mother’s house to Uncle Sam’s. Even more received training for jobs where there is no civilian equivalent, such as infantry or naval gunner.
If you are a young person with little life experience and few job skills, the civilian world becomes a cold, strange and hostile place. Some employers may have few vets on the payroll and don’t know how to help when they experience challenges.
To help young troops navigate this lonely and treacherous terrain between military service and civilian success, and to provide a resource to Houston-area employers, a team of veterans has established the Combined Arms Center.
Combined Arms is designed as a one-stop shop where veterans can access 283 programs offered by 40 organizations. Veterans create online profiles, take assessments and then request services. Combined Arms uses a customized Salesforce software to register the veterans and connect them to organizations that can help. Combined Arms tracks the vets’ progress to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks.
Every form of assistance is available, including career coaching, employment opportunities, mental health services, legal advice, financial assistance, homelessness prevention and social events.
“The No. 1 problem for veterans as they transition is that they don’t know what’s available to them in the communities that they are going to,” said Kelly Land, executive director of Combined Arms and a former Navy helicopter pilot. “Through this one contact with the veteran, we can connect them to many organizations that can serve their needs.”
Since opening in July 2016, Combined Arms has been joined by about 2,000 veterans, and 1,300 are enrolled in 4,300 programs, including transition workshops. Combined Arms leverages its user data to identify people who may need urgent assistance.
What vets want most are career services and opportunities to connect and socialize with other veterans. Finding an organization where they can volunteer ranks third, because vets long for a sense of mission.
“They want a chance to give back, to have a purpose,” said Brian Wilson, creative technology manager for Combined Arms and a former Army medic. “That’s what we had in the military. We were spoiled. We had three hots and a cot, a paycheck, and we were sent out with a mission every day. You barely get that in the civilian world, unless you are a police officer or a firefighter.”
Land said he knows that veterans are not always the easiest employees, especially during the first three years after they get out. So he wants employers to consider Combined Arms a resource where veterans can get the help or purpose they need. In return, he hopes that by the time Combined Arms’ seed money runs out in 2021, the Houston community will financially support his nonprofit organization.
“For an employer to have an employee who isn’t struggling as hard as they used to — who is thriving in the workplace and thriving in life in general — that is great,” Land said. “It’s amazing the resources we have here, and how much better people’s lives would be if they got involved.”
If you are a vet who needs a helping hand, contact Combined Arms. If you are a vet who wants to give back, fill out a profile at Combined Arms. And if you are a company that wants to hire or help vets, well, you know where to go. Don’t just thank vets for their service. Make sure they get the services they need. They will pay it forward.
Chris Tomlinson is the Chronicle’s business columnist. email@example.com twitter.com/cltomlinson www.houstonchronicle.com/ author/chris-tomlinson
Monique Rodriguez, Kelly Land, Brian Wilson and Bryan Escobedo are part of Combined Arms, a onestop shop for veterans looking for career coaching or other assistance.