Home Front Challenge: How can California better support returning veterans, active military and their families?
Southern California is home to the largest population in the U.S. of veterans and active military personnel returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. On Monday, January 14th, Take Two co-hosts A Martinez and Alex Cohen talked with experts and veterans on the challenges faced by this population, and posed the question: “How well does Southern California understand the experiences and of veterans and their families, and how can we provide the necessary help and support?”
There are 2.2 million veterans in California; we are just one state and yet we're home to about a tenth of the veteran population nationwide. Of those - more than a million veterans reside in Southern California. Fifteen percent of these veterans are from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Eighty percent of veterans return to civilian life with few problems, but the other twenty percent face major challenges, including unemployment, the deep psychological wounds of post traumatic stress disorder, homelessness, estrangement from family and friends. Each of these conditions can impact the other – without a job, homeless can follow, PTSD can be made worse – and the veteran’s ability to transition to civilian life is threatened.
There are multiple ways to improve support for our veterans community, but the panel agreed the need for national, community and grass-roots organizations to work together to provide consistent networks of services and support was key. Putting boots on the ground, reaching out and engaging vets and their families directly, connecting quickly and earning their trust are imperative in getting services to those in need. And educating those of us not in the military about the challenges veterans face, helping us to be smarter about the realities of coming home from a war is a must.
The entire discussion is available at the link above. We welcome your comments.
Dr. Anthony Hassan is inaugural director of the USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families and clinical associate professor at the USC School of Social Work. He served during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004 on the first-ever Air Force combat stress control and prevention team embedded with an Army unit. A retired Air Force officer, he brings 25 years of experience in military social work and leadership development.
Elizabeth Heger is executive director of The Soldiers Project, a private, non-profit group of over 400 volunteer licensed mental health professionals nationwide.
Joseph Costello is team leader at the San Marcos Vet Center, which is part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, near Camp Pendleton. He leads a team which provides services to veterans on everything from employment assistance to medical benefits referrals. His military career includes eight years of active duty with the U.S. Navy, and he received the Navy Expeditionary Medal for participation in the Iran hostage rescue mission. Costello returned to military service after the events of 9/11 and became an Army Reserve paratrooper. He was called to active duty in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal and Combat Action Badge. Costello retired as a chief warrant officer from the Army Reserve in 2010.