This marks the 10th Veterans Day since the advent of Operation Enduring Freedom–that first foray into Afghanistan and the precursor to what has become the longest, most expensive war in American history. Dollars, however, are but a small portion of that price tag. The impact of these wars not only on those who’ve served, but on their families and communities, has been enormous. And if not dealt with efficaciously, the wounds of war will present significant challenges to public health and safety for generations to come.
With the war effort dependent upon an all-volunteer force equaling less than 1 percent of the American population, more than 900,000 of today’s service members have weathered the impact of the unprecedented need for multiple deployments. Nearly half of the force is made up of reservists and National Guard members who signed up with the intention of serving their country while maintaining ties to family and community. Things have not worked out as planned.
A staggering 17 percent of the active-duty force is on anti-depressants. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury afflict between 20 percent and 35 percent of all troops. The divorce, home foreclosure, and violence rates among veterans and military families are high and climbing.
The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments bear primary responsibility for warrior care. Despite the urgency of the charge and the vast size of their budgets, however, they continue to fall short. Arguments about how these agencies could do a better job abound, but nearly a decade into these conflicts, no level of public outcry is likely to meet the demand for care before thousands more fall through the cracks. This is where nonprofit and philanthropic leaders step in.
Although almost never compensated by the military, thousands of nonprofits are helping to care for and reintegrate veterans successfully in communities nationwide. In Massachusetts, a partnership between a community college, a veteran-support nonprofit, and a hospital addresses the post-deployment educational, social welfare, and health needs of military families, under one roof. In Texas, community foundations have helped donors of all sizes funnel their contributions by applying best practices in grantmaking to the vetting of local military-support organizations. A nationwide coalition of local vet-serving nonprofits has created a referral network that connects veterans in crisis with pre-screened community resources where they live, and when they need help.
Grantmakers are in an extraordinary position to support these efforts, and we must do this before individual needs become crises. Funders can touch veterans’ lives through existing grant programs in areas such as workforce development, public health, substance abuse, and family togetherness by helping grantees to extend their reach toward veterans and needy military families. We’ll need to bone up, become culturally competent in the military milieu, and occasionally make some risky grants–but this is stuff we do well.
And simultaneous to our efforts to support excellent community organizations, of course, many among us should also consider supporting the efforts of organizers and advocates, whose work to change laws and protocols may once and for all break down the barriers that inhibit siloed federal agencies from partnering effectively with the thousands of capable nonprofits nationwide that are catching veterans as they fall through the government’s gaps.
Nancy Berglass is the director of the Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund (a donor advised fund of the California Community Foundation), a nonresident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and principal of Berglass Community Investment Consulting in Los Angeles
For statistics, source materials, and further analysis of the need for a new paradigm in veterans’ care, please visit www.cnas.org.
For specific resources and recommendations for grantmakers interested in addressing the needs of our service members and veterans, please download the full report of the Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund, a project of the California Community Foundation: http://www.calfund.org/pub_documents/CCFIADIFfullreport.pdf