Washington State’s VetCorps: Helping Veterans Navigate Higher Education

>>Okay, testing. Is there still an echo?>>There seems to
be a slight echo, but most of seems
to be resolved.>>Sounds good to me now. If it started recording, it might have been the
service starting up.>>All right. Thank you very much, Larry. As I was saying, the phones are
muted to cut down on as much as background noise as possible. Again, welcome to our
Wednesday webinar for July with the Washington
State VetCorps. This is going to be a
really good show today. They have come here
to talk to you about helping veterans
navigate higher education. They’ve come up with a really
creative and innovative program that helps military veterans
adjust from their military life to their college and civilian
life by providing them with support, resources,
and information. But before we start, I would like to get just a few
housekeeping things under our belt so that we could
help you navigate this webinar a little bit better and
get the most out of it. Debbie, can you move
it to slide 2? Thank you. This is our housekeeping
slide, and as you can see, the box on the slide
looks slightly like what you should be seeing
to the right of your screen. It does remind you that
the phones are muted to minimize background noise. Also, something different
on the right side of your screen that’s
not on our web screen is on the right-hand corner at the
bottom is a Q and A section. If you have a question
during the section, just jot it down here, and
our panelist will be able to answer your question
via the chat option there by typing an answer back
to you, or letting you know when they’ll be talking about that during the
slide presentation. Also, we have a chat
feature up above. If you want to provide us with
any information, resources, or additional information
you have, you can type that in the chat message above. You can send a private message
to some of the attendees that are on our list, or send
a message to all participants, and everybody will be able to
see what you’ve got going on. Also, at the end of our session, we’ll have a very
short evaluation. We’re trying to do these
webinars once a month, and we want to make them as
interactive and as educational and informative as possible, so
we really rely on your feedback to tell us what went well
and what didn’t go well, and how could we
improve things for you. So if you could just
take a second at the end to do this that would be great. Larry, can you pop up the poll
and to find out a little bit about who’s on this call? As you can see to the right of your screen now,
there is a big poll. It’s talking about we’ve got
on the conversation today, so that our presenters
will be able to know a little
bit more about you. So if you could take a couple of
seconds to fill out this poll, I’ll have Debbie go onto slide 3 and start introducing the
panelists to us, today, and then at the end of the
introductions, I’ll take a back and give the results of the poll so that we can all see
who’s on the phone with us. Thank you. Go ahead, Debbie.>>Debbie, can you hear us now?>>Yes, we can hear you.>>Okay, great, thank you. Thank you for the opportunity
to join us today to hear about the Washington
VetCorps program. The Washington Commission
for National and Community Service partnered
with the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs
starting in 2009. You may recall that the passage of the Kennedy Serve America Act
added a Veterans Corps component under the Corporation for
National and Community Service, and as a result of our
partnership, we were able to start one of the
first VetCorps programs in the country starting
in the fall of 2009. Since that time, the VetCorps
program has been a formula grantee of the commission, and
they have engaged 100 members — probably 95 percent of
those members are veterans, themselves, and the
remaining are spouses, widows, or family members. Those members have provided
services and support to over 11,500 veterans and
military family members. And one major accomplishment,
I believe, is the addition of veteran resource rooms in 23
colleges across Washington State that previously did not
have that room available where veterans could congregate,
get support and camaraderie for fellow veteran students. So joining me today —
we’re all in Olympia in one conference room —
but I have Mark Fischer, who is the founder of
the VetCorps program for Washington Department of
Veterans Affairs; Sarah Andrews, who is an alum and now working
for the VetCorps program in a staff capacity;
and also Jason Alves, also a VetCorps alum, who is the
new VetCorps program director as of July 1st. So I’m going to pass
the phone along to Mark to give you an update on the
program and some history.>>Thanks, Debbie. This is Mark Fischer,
and a little bit about my background is that
I’ve been working with veterans for over 30 years now, and so
that’s partly why I was able to think about these things
over the course of a long time. We started a program called
the Veterans Conservation Corps at the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs a
little over seven years ago. And within that, my task was to
engage veterans around the state of Washington in habitat
restoration projects, environmental projecting,
that sort of thing, and I quickly realized that
I couldn’t do that by myself. So as I received a little bit
more money from the legislature, I looked out into the
communities for veterans who could be my peer mentors for other veterans
in their communities. It made the best sense to me. As one person, I couldn’t
touch very many people’s lives, but with ten Veteran
Conservation Corps program managers, we could touch
a lot of people’s lives. So in a sense, they were the
original VetCorps members without being called that. They got very little pay, sort of like what
AmeriCorps members get. And they were doing a
lot of volunteer work, and they were all
veterans themselves, some of them having
disabilities, and they were engaged in service
to other veterans already, so it was easy to find them. That became the formula for
looking for VetCorps members, as I’ll get to that in a second. So we had a second
part of our program, which was in engaged
in colleges. It was called the Veterans
Environmental Academy that started as the result of
another legislative action. So this is before,
pre the GI Bill, and we were given veterans
a stipend every month to work a couple
of days of the week out on environmental projects and while they were
going to college. And while we were
doing that program, I noticed something significant
about veterans in college, is that they didn’t navigate
the college system very well. There were a lot of gaps and
fall-throughs that happened as a result of their trying
to enter into college. So one of the things
that happened as a result of our first program, is we had
a one-stop shop on the first day of registration enrollment,
GI Bill enrollment, which had everything
for these 30 veterans in this instrumental program,
and that worked very smoothly. I wish we could replicate that in all colleges
for all veterans. Unfortunately, it’s a
little bit too much to ask, but what they told me
was that the veterans who received those
services were really happy. They felt like they
could be included in the colleges studying
very quickly, and they felt it was a win-win. So when that legislative
money went away at the same time the new GI Bill
came into being, we realized, I realized there was
an opportunity here with the VetCorps program
under the Edward M. Kennedy Act to kind of recreate what we were
doing in a much broader sense. So all these ideas sort of
came from the natural evolution of the work that we were doing
already, rather than kind of springing out of nowhere. So when the VetCorps
program came along, we put most of our
first-year members in colleges, in the VA Hospital, some in
homeless settings for veterans, and a couple of members at the
Warrior Transition Battalion at joint base [inaudible]. So what we found after
the first year is that the most successful
VetCorps members were those in colleges. There’s a huge captured
population of veterans in college, first of all, and the Warrior Transition
Battalion was the second place that became the most useful
place to put VetCorps members. So over the last three years, that’s what we’ve primarily
done is having VetCorps members at two- and four-year
colleges, and two members at the Warrior Transition
Battalion. And I’ll talk a little bit about the upcoming
year in a little while.>>Hi, it’s Sarah here. I just wanted to talk
about the first slide, really some of the most
important aspects of VetCorps and really where the
transition began. So I’d like to start with
a personal experience. I like to illustrate these
points by personal experiences. And one that I had was in trying to volunteer while
going to school. This was pre-VetCorps for me. The student clubs really
didn’t appeal to me. They often had a younger
group, and it was clubs like horror film enthusiasts,
and even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich club. There really wasn’t anything
that seemed really fulfilling for me, and even trying to
volunteer for Big Brothers and Big Sisters, you have
to be gainfully employed, and being a full-time
student doesn’t count. So there’s a strong desire, a
sense of duty and dedication to want to volunteer,
and really it just needed to be harnessed and focused. And so keeping some
of those qualities in mind really is a must for the
VetCorps members we seek out, and the veterans we
try to help is finding that new mission
and sense of unit. So I want to talk briefly
about both of those. What does a new mission mean? Starting school is
just the beginning. It really is just the beginning. There’s a feeling of now
what, what degree program, what major certificate. It’s that million-dollar
question, what do you want to be when you grow up,
that’s really honed down into this really
disorienting period where you’re trying to
figure all of this out. And so the new objectives
are crucial for a very highly
goal-oriented population. They need it to know what those
goals are to feel effective. There are very tangible
objectives in the military that they’re to achieve
the mission. And without those goals, any
number of things can happen, from isolation to depression
to various negative effects of a difficult transition. There needs to be
that sense of purpose, or for most of our veterans,
there is a strong desire to help by volunteering and
teaching and mentoring. We’ve already done that in the
military, and really just want to continue to do that, so really just the dedication
needs to be redirected. The sense of unit for
me is the sense of unity in that the most common
aspect of the military that veterans say they miss after separation
is the camaraderie. It’s a band that
you’re together with, the [inaudible] you’re
banded together with that provides a degree
of safety and security that you’re all dedicated
to each other. There’s a sense of belonging. There really is no success for
the mission without being able to lean on each other
and provide that support. And that’s why the majority
of veterans, myself included, will always put that
you’re a team player or that you work well on a team. Honestly, I feel that’s
kind of under appreciated for civilian employers,
because it’s not just a team in the military in the sense
that you worked well in a group, on a group project in school, or you’re on the junior
varsity basketball team. This is a team more like a
family that you had to rely on to sometimes even
get home safely. So the veteran community itself
can provide that new team with a new sense of support and
camaraderie that really feels like it’s swept out
from under you when you immediately separate. So the new mission provides
the objectives necessary for a highly goal-oriented
population that already wants to help or make a difference,
and just needs to be redirected. And the sense of unit provides
that security and strength to embark on a new
mission with a new team that you feel you can trust. I’m going to pass it off to
Jason now for the next slide.>>Jason Alves here. One of the ways that the
VetCorps program meets its goals in engaging veterans
on college campuses is by engaging the community
in service and increasing the
community’s understanding of the veteran’s transition. Like Mark said, one of our catchalls is
the college campuses, and most of the veterans have
access to the Post-9/11 GI Bill when they get out
of the service. And as one of the listeners
commented, a poor job market, so college becomes a pretty, you
know, pretty well-fitting shoe, I guess, when they get
out of the service. But one of the things that
VetCorps tries to do, so I mean, yes, they are assigned
to college campuses as the primary service site, but we like to consider
them as navigators. Navigators, meaning that they
are acting as the hub of a wheel for the veterans towards
community services, as well as community services
towards those veterans. We really try to
plug those veterans into stuff that’s
in the community. You know, a number of
community resources and stuff like that make up the community,
and really trying to bring that also back into
the community. We also have the — I guess
I don’t know any other way to say it. We also have the benefit of
them being AmeriCorps members. So as the AmeriCorps
members, they’re required to do three service
projects in a service year. Members have fulfilled this
requirement in a number of different ways — a
couple to talk about is that the Seattle Stand Down. So a “stand down” is a
term used in the military. It’s after, you know, being on
the front and stuff like that, you get the opportunity to
come back in a stand down, “three hots and a cot.” So you take a break, you go through training,
safety stand down. You kind of go over some of the
stuff that may have happened that wasn’t the best thing when
you’re in the front and stuff. Anyway, it’s a break,
it’s a chance to not worry about things, it’s a chance
to go over stuff that you need to go over and everything
like that. The Seattle Stand Down,
and how it’s been coined in the civilian community
and stuff like that, is an opportunity to bring in
homeless or at-risk veterans and give them an opportunity,
clothing, issue, food, you know, resources for job and
education, stuff like that. So a VetCorps member, or a
group of VetCorps members in the Seattle area,
did the Seattle Stand Down this last year. 125 organizations were involved
in the Seattle Stand Down with over 100 volunteers, about
50 of those were veterans. And that group saw
over 326 homeless or at-risk veterans
in the Seattle area. Another service project
that’s been done with the community
is rehabilitation. So veterans going out and
working in conservation — well, the VetCorps members
working in conservation kind of areas working in
rehabilitating a creek. And then we’ve got
a VetCorps member that does a teddy bear drive
right around Christmastime for kids in hospitals. For veterans, we end
upbringing in the teddy bears and then giving these teddy
bears to kids in the hospital who are sick and stuff. VetCorps members have reported
changes on their campus. So Debbie talked
about veteran centers and veteran’s rooms
and stuff like that. They end up becoming
amazing one-stop shops for student veterans to
get together and kind of discuss college, college
life, transition and kind of come together as a group, and a lot of veterans
have talked about that. But one of the things, too,
that veterans have talked about is changes in
their communities. Communities that go from
not really being engaged with the student veteran
population on campuses to then becoming really engaged,
really wanting to get back to them, wanting to e-mail
them, ask them for help, ask them for support, and
kind of working together. A lot of new partners
have been made this way. A lot of VetCorps members
end up becoming kind of — like we wanted them to be
these navigators of services, and people that want to — you know, people that want to
volunteer, people that want to serve vets, and then also
people that want vets to then go and volunteer and
serve with them. That also includes employment and all those wonderful
things, so. The stand down — Mark
would better be able to answer that question, but.>>Sure, the stand down comes
from a combination of funders. The VA usually gets involved
to some degree in terms of providing goods and services,
like, they’ll provide clothing and backpacks and
that sort of thing. But a lot of community
organizations provided volunteers. There were doctors there who volunteered their
time, dentists, nurses. There were a lot of people
just volunteering their time to help the homeless vets. And then the college
where the stand down was held donated
a lot of food, the lunch that was provided. So there was just a
combination of funders for this particular stand down.>>Sarah here again talking
about actively seeking out veterans and family members
on campus and in the community. And again, with a
personal experience, it’s just the same frustrations
that I had in separating from the Navy, trying
to attend school. There’s an overwhelming amount
of information on websites and trying to figure out the
confusing GI Bill criteria, which they tell you on the website is an
irrevocable decision. You cannot change your mind
later and say, I’m sorry, I didn’t know I was
wasting thousands of dollars I could have used
towards a different factor. And even understanding
my disability assistance and whether or not that
covered any healthcare or if I should be rated higher. I wouldn’t find out until
five years after my separation that I was experiencing
symptoms of invisible wound. That’s the problem with
invisible wounds is that they can’t be seen,
only felt, and it’s difficult to convey this to family
members that may not understand, and school counselors
without a lot of experience. So actively seeking out
veterans has enormous benefits. It supplies a means
to just ask questions and immediately supplies
answers. Even if they say, even if
you say, “I don’t know, but I can find out,”
that’s better than nothing, preventing many of the
individual problems with isolation and depression
and relationships and academics. And even, because it’s
at a community level, whether it’s the campus or the
surrounding veteran community, it’s more immediate
action that’s possible. So rather than a website to
skip through to find an e-mail or a hotline to call, and a menu
to listen to and great music to listen to while you’re on
hold, there’s a person to talk to face-to-face, and that
can really make a difference by reaching out and actively
seeking out veterans. We’re providing a
funnel of information and a direct person to turn to. This phrase has come
up numerous times. I’ve seen it, you
might have heard it, that colleges have become a
conduit of veteran transition. Whether they knew it or
not, or like it or not, the student veterans are there
and they’re transitioning on the college campus. VetCorps members are, as Jason
already said, the navigators, that is their job title,
the veteran navigators, to navigate the college
system, the community benefits, and the VA system and helping — the numerous ways they can
help provide the network within which a wealth of
knowledge has been available and a fast acting means of
distributing information. If you can’t find the
answer right away, you have a whole team of
people that you can ask and a whole network that you
can call out to, to get help. And it reaches previously
untapped populations of veterans for increased awareness, also. If you don’t self-identify
as a veteran, which many women veterans may
not, if you don’t self-identify as a veteran because you
were medically discharged after six months, or
there’s any number of reasons why you’re not
actively seeking your veteran benefits, you just don’t
know what’s available to you, and it can be the difference
between thousands of dollars or success in school
or even, you know, healthier relationships. It can prevent many of
the individual problems with isolation and depression
and relationships and academics. That the disability services
available at my school, I had no idea were
available to me because of the disability
rating I had. But we all know that an ounce
of prevention a worth a pound of cure, and it can make all
the difference to a veteran. It’s significantly
more difficult to get a homeless veteran
off the street than it is to prevent, even college — we
have college graduates that are in danger of becoming homeless. That’s really significant. And so preventing that is key. The benefits at the
community level are quicker. You can take action, you can
simply get a question answered. The VA Question Line,
it tells you it takes 7 to 10 days for a response. But just having someone you can
go to that has already asked that question for numerous other
veterans on that campus before and can instantly give you
an answer can make a big difference, and especially
if they’re aware of what’s happening
in regional offices where your GI Bill may be held up because there’s
no one in Oklahoma. Someone to turn to for that help and that awareness can
make all the difference. The VA is only at the
federal and state levels. There’s no community
level for the VA, and so that difference
can be key. And so actively seeking out the
veterans provides that network for information gathering
and distribution, local, all the way across the state for
us, which prevents many problems for previously untapped pockets of veterans throughout
the entire state, even in rural areas. And because it’s at a
community level, it’s faster, it’s more holistic, and it’s
more well rounded for everything that perhaps the state or
federal level doesn’t provide. So I’ll pass it off
to Jason again.>>Next slide. As a veteran, I can say
with some bias, I guess, that my experience is never
going to be duplicated. Well, other than other
veterans as of, you know, but out of the military, going
into a college atmosphere, dealing with the GI Bill,
figuring out the VA system and stuff like that is a
pretty unique experience. So one of the things that VetCorps program does is
it gives these little experts — not little, I mean, it gives
experts on individual campuses. And that is really,
really important for the campus leadership,
the faculty, the staff, the administration, on
raising the veteran’s cultural competency within
that campus community. And whenever that veteran’s
cultural competency is raised, you create a more welcoming,
more productive atmosphere for the veterans that are
obtaining education or going to the colleges or
stuff like that. So these veterans are uniquely
positioned, both as students and VetCorps members, to
inform the campus leadership. They do this information, they do inform their campus
leadership, through engagement of the university faculty,
staff, and administration, but also by bringing
in community partners. One of the benefits of being
underneath the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs,
it has a unique relationship with different programs that the
Department of Veterans Affairs for the state of Washington has. VetCorps members
has a direct conduit to the Veterans’ Training
Support Center, which brings in Peter Schmidt, who’s one of
our counselors and educators that does training on
veterans’ cultural competency. The VetCorps members
have a direct conduit to the Washington
State Department of Veterans Affairs
PTSD Program, which has PTSD counselors
throughout the State for inpatient, you know, access for veterans
and stuff like that. Basically, there’s
this network of support that the veterans being experts
can bring in to the university, and they’re on the campus. This cultural competency, as I
was referring to, has been shown to be that first big step
in veteran’s retention. As a group often
self-described as on the fringe, a well-informed, supportive
campus community keeps that member, or that
veteran, that VetCorps member, or there’s the veteran
on campus, in the class. That’s pretty intense, I
mean, well, not intense, but it’s pretty important
to think about, that a well-informed
faculty member or a well-informed
administrative member is going to be able to make a
better choice when dealing with that student veteran. If a veteran has a
problem in a classroom, having that well
informed faculty member, having that well informed
faculty member knowing that there’s a network
of people who they can go to with the question how do
I connect with this veteran, or how do I keep this veteran
in class, really helps us out with that retention.>>Go to the next slide. We’re going to take a quick
break and answer a couple of questions that
have popped up online. I’ll try to do these in order, but I apologize if
I don’t get them. So in your experience, what
are some best practices for recruiting veterans
for AmeriCorps in respect to the whole living
stipend and time commitment. So there’s two factors here. We do have a number of
our VetCorps members who are either part-time
students or are taking some
online courses, so they’re drawing
their GI Bill as well as taking their AmeriCorps
stipend, which helps a great deal, as most of you know what the
AmeriCorps stipend is about. The time commitment, many
veterans are used to work 12/7s, 7/12s, 84 hours a week,
whatever it is, so for them, a time commitment is not
the same as it might be for somebody else who’s dealing
with a difficult schedule. They see that as a challenge,
80 hours a week is nothing. Another question
about recruiting. So what we find is
there’s always somebody at a college who’s
already doing something. If you pay attention,
you’ll find a student or another veteran
who’s doing something. We actually found a veteran at
North Seattle Community College who was getting ready to
make the stand down work, and we made him a
VetCorps member. So it’s sort of like, if
you look, they’re there. It’s just a matter
of finding them. Because veterans want to serve. I heard the Assistant
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff talk yesterday, and
he said, veterans are eager and want to serve in
their communities, and that’s the truth,
as far as I can tell. And you just have
to go look for them. Okay, other questions. There was another one about,
do we plan to coordinate with other veteran-focused
AmeriCorps programs across the country. I’m not sure what
that exactly means, but we would certainly
be open to talking to other VetCorps
programs across the country and about projects and ideas. Any other questions
that we missed? And we also have been
working with Lauren Peach, who is our AmeriCorps
legal justice connection. She’s an attorney who
is an AmeriCorps member. So when we find veterans
who have difficulties with legal issues, we can refer
to her, and she’s been great in helping our veterans get
some of their problems solved. Veterans get out of the military
and often have financial and legal problems as a result
of not exactly knowing how to deal with the
civilian systems, and so, and some of them have
posttraumatic stress, and so forth and so on, and they
get themselves into trouble. One other piece that
Jason mentioned, I want to at least let you know that the other thing
that’s happening with cultural competency
at colleges is that, partly because of the
work of Tim Lovett, whose a former VetCorps member
and now my TBI coordinator, a lot of college faculty have
a little sign on their window that says “TBI aware.” And that’s a great
thing for somebody, whether they’re civilian
or veteran who has a traumatic brain
injury, to be able to go in and talk to a faculty
member about that and what they made need in terms
of accommodation at that school. We also have another little
sign that’s “veteran aware” or “veteran friendly” on
a lot of faculty doors. So again, a veteran who’s having
a tough day can go in and talk to that faculty member. Just another little example of how veteran cultural
competencies came across the state of Washington.>>There’s also one
other question about retention veterans who are
serving as AmeriCorps members. And actually in the program
year that just ended last month, the VetCorps retained 100
percent of their members, all 31 full-time members
successfully completed the program. And interestingly
enough, in year one, the program tried
different types of positions. They had some minimum time,
part-time, and full-time, and the worst retention was
experienced in year one, and particularly
among the minimum time and part-time positions. It was harder to keep
them engaged and committed to the program, and
so many exited early. So with this program
model we found full-time to be the most efficient.>>Okay, next. Okay, I may be repeating myself. The veterans — as OF right
now of the veterans transitions out of the military, I
think estimate is right around two-thirds of those are
not actually taking advantage of VA services. They’re not getting
into the VA system, they’re not seeking medical
care, and whatnot like that. Of those two-thirds, I would
venture to say that the majority of those two-thirds are actually on the college campuses,
and stuff like that. So the VetCorps member
becomes a pretty crucial point in reaching these unserved
populations, or not unserved, but these missed
populations of veterans. The VetCorps member, like I said
before, is uniquely positioned on the campus, as well as
within the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs, to provide
quick access for these veterans into these different
services and stuff like that. They also, like I said
before, end up being, they are these experts,
they are going through the transition
themselves, they are working with the VA themselves. They are taking advantage
of the GI Bill themselves. And then also, like we said
on one of the first slides, the members are also
working very closely with community resources. And so the veterans again, like
we were trying to say earlier, become navigators, they become
experts, and they really plug into the veterans in this
under served population into these different services
in the VA, hopefully reaching out to that two-thirds
of veterans that are not getting
into VA systems. Do we have questions?>>So there’s a question
about the GI Bill, whether it supplements
living allowance. Yes, I guess the answer to
that is the GI Bill provides a stipend, as well,
and in a sense, you’re getting two
different stipends, but there’s never
been a disallowance of those two stipends. They’re not in conflict
with one another. Would any of your folks
be willing to present in other states regarding
the success of your program. Certainly, we have done that, and we would be willing
to do so again. We actually went down to
New Orleans and helped that program — actually, the
Saint Bernard project came up to see us, and we also
went down to see them to take to them about their program. Most vets, most veteran
navigators are vets themselves. Yeah, most of our vets, our VetCorps members are
vets or spouses primarily. We will have one family
member this year, as well, so kind of a combination
of things.>>I will say on that that it
may not necessarily be required to be a veteran, but we have
seen that if it is a veteran in service, the connection, the
ability to bring more veterans into the services like we
were talking about before, and the ability to really
increase the understanding on the campus community
and all that kind of stuff and on veterans issues
greatly increases.>>Okay, so there’s a
question about the proximity of the military bases. So this is a good time to
talk about our next year. So I received an
actual competitive grant for 50 VetCorps members. We’ll be placing members at
all the bases in Washington, because we see that this
Transition Assist Program is starting to really take hold. President Obama has
really made a change in the way the Transitional
Assist Programs are being operated. So soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines will now have more
time to know that they’re going to be exiting the military,
and within that time, we can provide VetCorps
members on bases who will help them understand
the transition process a little better and what options
they might have for education, jobs, whatever. We’re working closely with SHRM. There was a question about jobs. SHRM is the Society for
Human Resource Managers. So our VetCorps members in the
12 regions that SHRM operates in our state will be working with those SHRM regional
directors about providing internships
for veterans out of college, doing resume building at the
colleges, and interview skills, job shadowing, so we really
see that employment issues — we can get them into college,
and we can maybe even get them out of college, but if
they’re no jobs when they get out of college, they’re going
to still be in the same boat. So we’re working hard this next
year and last year and this year on employment issues
for veterans. There is a question
about research about retention graduation
rates. We’re seeing anywhere — one of the things that
the VA is not doing, and the higher education
boards are not doing, is doing is very
good job of counting. But we see statistics
anywhere from 65 to 88 percent of dropout rate among
returning veterans in colleges. That’s horrible, and that’s
obviously why we’re at colleges to try to create more success in retention among
veterans who are in college. I can tell you from surveys that
I’ve gotten back from veterans who receive our services
from VetCorps members, many of them say they
wouldn’t be in college without the VetCorps member. So obviously there’s
a significant, a significant increase
in success in retention if we can have VetCorps
members — which, next year there will
be 40 colleges will be in, so we want to aim to make this
bigger and better every year. So there’s a question
about the training. We do a three-day training in
the beginning of the program, and is it’s probably not
your typical AmeriCorps training program. We went to one of
those one year. So we focus on the invisible
wounds, posttraumatic stress, traumatic brain injury,
military sexual trauma. We focus on veteran
resources in the community, federal, state, and local. We focus on how to do peer
mentoring, so we spend a lot of time on peer mentoring,
active listening. We spend a lot of time
on going over resources and referral information, as
I said, and VA information. Okay guys, what else do we do?>>I would just like to
reiterate too, that I mean, like we said before, these
veterans are the experts to some extent, because
they are using the GI Bill and they are veterans who
are in transition themselves. Some of unteachable
things, some of those ways that they can connect with
the group and stuff like that, they’re, they’re
inherently brought into the conversation
during our trainings.>>Right. Any more questions?>>How can we encourage
RSV volunteers? So let me talk about that. I think there’s a lot of senior
veterans who probably are in the same boat as
these young veterans. They’d like to volunteer
their time with RSVP programs. And there’s probably a lot
of senior veterans who would like to be served by
our RSVP programs, so I think that there’s
all age ranges of veterans. We’re just focusing on the young
veterans, returning veterans, because that’s what our
primary focus is, but I talked to one RSV program manager,
and she got it, she understood that there was an untapped
potential within her volunteers to really work on these issues. How is conservation work
tied into what we do? We do three service
projects a year with all of our VetCorps members, and many of them choose
environmental projects. However, we also run the
Veteran Conservation Corps, so we get a lot of our
veterans who are coming out of natural resources and
environmental science programs into internships with
natural resource agencies, both state and federal. Right now, we’re working closely
with the Department of Ecology to refer veterans
to their program, which has also become
more veteran connected. They will have, I think, four veteran crews
this next year working on ecology projects. There will be a veteran
crew leader and four or five veterans on each crew. So. Go ahead.>>We will just wait for
the benefit of [inaudible].>>And so there is a long-term
benefit in conservation work that really started our program. Quick story. John Beal was a Vietnam veteran. He was given a diagnosis
of six months to live. He went down to his local
stream and said, well, if I’ve only got
six months to live, I might as well do something, so I’ll start cleaning
up this stream. So he started pulling out old
refrigerators and batteries and started looking at the
weeds and invasive species around the stream, and
26 years later he died. So point being that
John Beal started a lot of environmental projects, restoration projects using
other veterans, and he saw, and we see that there’s a
lot of eco-therapy benefit from doing environmental
work among veterans, especially veterans who
have invisible wounds. For posttraumatic
stress, working outside, working with the environmental
is a very healing process. Quick story. I think that there’s as many
benefits for the members who are giving the services
as those who are receiving it. I think many of our members
have changed their degrees from business to social service
or psychology or counseling because they really
have found a passion for helping other
veterans, other people. We also see people who have kind
of come into their own in terms of their confidence in what they
do in life, and how they operate and how they feel
about themselves. I think a lot of the invisible
wounds are healed gradually through the course of
being a VetCorps member. And we certainly see that
in the course of the people that they help, my
surveys indicate that a lot of veterans receiving service
have seen VetCorps members more than 10 times. So why are they seeing
them so many times. Part of it is because I think
they’re getting mentored in a way that helps them
feel better about themselves and stronger and more
confident in their college life.>>I’ve seen a couple
of questions about possible military
benefits, like the GI Bill and stuff like that,
and if that interferes with the AmeriCorps
stipend or service award or anything like that. It does not. So the GI Bill benefit
is not a taxable income, it’s not considered an income,
and so it doesn’t affect any of that kind of stuff like that. There is no cross
or — you know.>>It’s an educational benefit.>>It’s an educational benefit and it doesn’t affect
the stipend.>>Right.>>So the next slide.>>Next slide. Is that one you’re doing?>>No, it’s you.>>Oh, so resources. So just a few resources. I’m not going to
talk long about this. You can look at our PTSD War
Trauma Outpatient Counseling program through our agency. It’s the only robust,
state-run, PTSD program, counseling program
in the country. There’s a couple of other states
that have small PTSD programs, but we have 37 counselors
spread out all over the state who provide free
services to veterans and their family members. So this has been
going on for 27 years and it’s provided
a valuable service. Tim Lovett, was a VetCorps
member three years ago, also has a traumatic
brain injury from Iraq. He now is the TBI
coordinator and goes around to all the VetCorps
members, educating them about TBI, educating
the colleges about TBI, and helping with more
veteran cultural awareness, as well as civilian
cultural awareness about TBI. We have qualified MS, military
sexual trauma counselors in the community that we
refer women veterans to, and men veterans, on occasion. Employment, I mentioned our
partnership with the Society for Human Resource managers
that’s really becoming a boon to veterans in terms
of employment issues. Next slide. [ Inaudible question ] Yes. So we have a
connection with the — we provide training programs for
civilians working with members who may be dealing with
service-related injuries, especially invisible wounds. Through a training program
that Peter Schmidt runs that Jason mentioned earlier, there is a program called
the Veterans Training Support Center, VTSC, you can
Google that, VTSC, or Veterans Training
Support Center. And you’ll find all kinds
of training opportunities that they provide for civilians,
as well as service members, as well as service providers,
so in our state, anyway. I don’t know what’s
going on elsewhere. Where are we at? Okay. Okay. Yep. We’ve talked about
working closely with the bases, so that one’s kind of done. The last one is why is the
VetCorps program successful? I think it’s obvious from
what Sarah and Jason have said that they, as VetCorps members,
have found a new calling in their work, first of all. I mean, it’s obvious to me
that they’re different people than they were two
and three years ago. It’s successful because veterans and their family members are
the ones who are in service. They’re not needy, they’re not
disabled, they’re not crippled, they’re not somebody that needs
the service, they’re somebody who provides the service. And the people that they’re
providing the service to are peers, so they don’t see
them at downtrodden and somebody that can’t help themselves,
but somebody who, with just a little handout, can get to where
they need to get to. And we work in underserved
populations and locations, so we’re out in the rural
areas, rural colleges, as well as in the
urban colleges. We try to find veterans
where they’re at. We don’t wait for
them to come to us, but we go out and look for them. A lot of our VetCorps members
not only work at the colleges, but they work out
in the community with local organizations,
they do outreach. So what am I missing, Sarah? Anything that you –>>I was just looking
at this question.>>If you can read it,
go ahead and answer it.>>Yeah, just to clarify
using the GI Bill as income versus pursuing a degree, many
vets I work with take classes that do not lead
to a degree and end up using their GI benefits
before they receive a degree. So we actually have — Tim Lovett, the TBI coordinator
actually got certified to administer the Myers-Briggs
test to help assist with that, because we are seeing
the same thing, that the GI Bill
quickly gets jumped into as a source of income. And without knowing really where
you want to go and what you want to do, it can end
up leading nowhere and unfortunately get drained.>>Well, and at the same time that Tim can [inaudible]
a great opportunity, the VetCorps position as
an AmeriCorps volunteer, they have the opportunity to,
you know, attend these events, coordinate with the faculty, the
staff, and the administration. They create programs,
they create centers, they manage budgets, I mean,
all these different kinds of things and stuff like that. So, at the same time,
if we can find out maybe what they’re direction
is [inaudible] education, stuff like that, we also have
the opportunity to apply it. Another thing, too, that
should be mentioned is a lot of our veterans,
myself included, are first generational students. So we’re getting out of
the military, like I did, we have a GI Bill, there’s
not much of a job prospect, stuff like that, so we dive into a college degree not
necessarily knowing how the higher education system is
going to work, why I’m there, or anything like that. So any kind of opportunity,
I think, to help give more direction
as to, this is what you do with a political science
degree, or this is what you do with an engineering
degree, and stuff like that, I think will help out with
answering that question as using it as an income
instead of pursuing a degree.>>And that’s the other
reason to work with SHRM, is because many of our
seniors come out of — senior veterans come
out of college without an internship
experience, without any resume, and they really haven’t
had a chance to examine. So we’re encouraging
freshman and sophomores to really start thinking
about these things and to — with our partnership
with SHRM, we can people into internships earlier
on in their career so that they can see,
is this something that I really want to do or not.>>Debbie, would you like
to open it up for questions?>>Yes. We still have
about 10 minutes left. Can you hear me?>>Yes.>>Oh, good. We have about 10 minutes
left, so if you want to unmute your phones,
just do a pound 6, or use the raise-hand feature,
which is the little hand at the bottom of the
participant panel, and we can unmute your phone and you can ask any
questions of the panelists. I think there was also,
was there one more that came up on the — no.>>Yes, does the military
provide college guidance to active duty personnel
prior to discharge. Prior to recently,
no, not much at all. The new TAP and ACAP program,
the new transition programs in the military, are
geared to do more of this, but it’s still — that’s why we
want VetCorps members on bases, because they’re the ones
who have gotten out, and they know what’s out there
in the community in terms of college opportunities
versus a lot of the folks who are really not ready
to give that information, or are able to give
that information, are doing these TAP programs,
so it’s just starting to happen.>>And I want to make sure that
it’s not underestimated, too, what it means to be a
first generational student. Because my personal story,
when I started at the college, I know that I went in there and
they asked me what I was going to school for, and I
didn’t know the difference between a master’s, a
Ph.D., or an associates or a bachelor’s and
stuff like that. So, I mean, that’s what level
some of the vets are coming in that they’re ready to go
to college, they want to go to college, but they’re not
exactly sure what’s going to happen from that. So transition programs are –>>Are there other questions? Yes.>>I’m Anthony Sorbini. I have a quick comment. I work at [inaudible]. I’m also a veteran, as well. I experienced something very
similar to what you described as probably being a
first generation student. Here in the Bay area
there’s really a big focus on the science, technology,
engineering and math fields, and I know a lot of veterans who don’t necessarily have an
understanding of the job market or the job market of the future and how it’s going
to look regionally. I was wondering if, you know,
I know you spoke a little bit about this as far as
connecting them with jobs. One of the tough
things that I’ve seen when we’re recruiting veterans
that are not enrolled in school, you know, fresh out
of separation, they really have no information
on regional economic development and kind of, you know, where workforce development is
regionally, where jobs will be, which causes them, I
think, in some ways to kind of pursue the GI Bill as income
and then not focus on, you know, science, technology,
engineering, and math, which is in demand,
particularly in this region, in the southern Washington
and Seattle area, as well.>>Right. Go ahead.>>We find the same thing, and that’s partly why we’re
doing what we’re doing with employment is not only to
tap into the local HR managers and employers, but to get that
information to our veterans about what is being hired. We’re partnered with the
Air Washington Grant, which is a big Boeing grant, so that we can help folks
understand that maybe coming out of the base and
being 38 years old and maybe you don’t want to
go to a four-year college, but if you’ve got six months
of composite strength to work for Boeing at a pretty good job.>>So, and I think
what Mark just said, and then what you said, too, highlights where the
VetCorps member kind of comes in and helps out. Instead of a group of vets
that are kind of scattered about the campus kind
of doing their thing, possibly first generation
student, possibly 38 years old, and understanding some
positive stuff like that, we have a member on the campus
that can help coordinate that and help make sure
that people are plugged into the correct
channels and they know who their resources are
and stuff like that. It’s definitely not a
solution to maybe veterans who are using the income and
not knowing what they’re going to school for, but
it’s more of a step in the right direction,
it helps.>>I heard a story the other day about San Francisco State having
2,000 veterans added to it. Is that an accurate
number, do you think?>>2,000 veterans
in their Vet club?>>No, 2,000 veterans on their
campus, and one certifying –>>On their campus.>>Yeah?>>I think I would probably
say that’s close to accurate. The last number I got was around
13, 1400 from one of the — we actually work with
the community colleges. You know, we kind of
look at veterans and some that are looking for
some short-term training that have the skills that
they can transfer a little bit easier. Maybe they don’t want to
do a four-year degree, so the community colleges have
really been a resource for us to develop training and
certificate programs for local [inaudible].>>Good work, good work.>>They have this huge
presence of veterans there. They have the Craig Newmark
funded Veterans Resource Center, and also, you know, got
them a really nice big room in the building to
meet with each other.>>That’s great,
that’s great to hear. Good work connecting with them. Any other questions? Yes.>>Yes. I was just wondering
what programs you guys had in place. This is Andre Diaz, one
of the AmeriCorps members from Georgia Perimeter College,
and a big problem we’re running into with veterans
is the shortfall between the GI Bill running out and then exceeding
their time for programs. And just what solutions or what
ways have you found to work around this, or what programs
do you guys have in place that we may be able to kind
of implement down here, or what resources would
you suggest for some of those veterans
with such shortfalls?>>Well, there’s not a perfect
answer to this question, but we try to get people to
consider work-study positions, VA work-study positions,
which will help a little bit. We tried to find
them part-time jobs. We do anything and
everything we can, but again, there’s no perfect
solution to this.>>And Washington also has a lot of veteran-specific
tuition waivers, all the way up to 50
percent tuition waiver at University of Washington. And so getting, spreading
the awareness, of, you know, what’s available at
the different schools in our state has
been a big help.>>Thank you.>>Any other questions?>>This is Debbie. Did you see the last
question from Vicky on the Q and A chat portion about
the RSV coordinator and do vets have a job-seeking
resource available nationwide.>>Yeah. Do vets have
a job-seeking resource available nationwide. Actually, there’s a number
of them that are available, if you want to — VetBiz is one. Hero 2 Hired is one that’s out
there doing a lot of actual, they’re doing, what is
it, virtual job fairs and stuff like that online. I just got on e-mail
about it this morning, so if you Google Hero 2 Hired, that’s actually a
pretty decent resource.>>Hero 2 Hired,
great, thank you.>>Hire Americans?>>No.>>Okay. That’s another one.>>It’s a national
program, yeah. So there’s a number
of them out there. If you Google “hiring vets,” you’ll probably find
a couple more.>>Thank you.>>Okay, well, we’re
getting close to our 11:00 o’clock timeframe, so I’d like to thank the
Washington State folks for giving us their time
and expertise and telling us about their program today. On the last slide they
have up, they have a link to a Tim Lovett You Tube video
that is a very good testimonial about some of the
stuff Tim has done. He was their traumatic
brain injury coordinator for their state, and has
a nice little blurb there that you could listen to for
just a couple of minutes. Also, the recording for
this webinar will be hosted on the Veterans and Military
Families Knowledge Network at the link we have
provided here. That should be up
within a couple of days and will be transcribed for
people who want a transcription. Any questions in the chat that
weren’t answered we could follow up with on this session. And if you hang up and
think, oh, my gosh, I should have asked that,
you can still use the space on the Knowledge Network to continue the conversation
we started today. The next slide also
just reminds you that we’ll have our next
Wednesday webinar August 29. The details will be up on
the Knowledge Network soon. We’re coordinating with
the American Legion and hosting some really
great training sessions in the next a couple of months, and we’ll have more
information up for you then. But once again, I’d just
like to say thank you. Please complete the webinar
survey at the end of this, if you can, just because it’ll
help us improve all these experiences for you. And thank you all for
your time and attention. We really appreciate you
guys for being with us today. Any last words from
our panelists?>>Debbie, do you have
time for one more question?>>Yes.>>Eileen Uzelo wanted to know who the sponsoring
organization is, is it the state or the University system?>>It’s the Washington
Department of Veterans Affairs, which is a state agency.>>Thank you.>>Eileen, if you have any more
questions, if you do a pound 6 on your phone, you should be
able to ask directly, too.>>Can you hear me?>>Yes, Eileen.>>Okay. Yeah, we have
several VISTAs here in Maine that are placed on campuses, but
— and other university campuses who are interested in
placing VISTAs on campus, but no kind of overarching
sponsoring organization, which was why I was
asking that question.>>You could approach the
Department of Veterans — each state has a Department
of Veterans Affairs, but they’re all very different. So you could approach
the State Department of Veterans Affairs
there in Maine, was it?>>Yes.>>And see if they’d be
willing to sponsor the program, but I can’t guarantee
they’ll say yes.>>It’s a big undertaking,
thank you.>>Well, yeah, somewhat, yes.>>And just to let you
know, after the first year of the VetCorps’
operation, the director of the Washington Department
of Veterans Affairs, John Lee, sent a letter to all of his
peers across the country to left them know of
our initial success and provided Mark’s
contact information if anyone wanted
more information about replicating the VetCorps. And, you know, since that
time, Mark has been speaking with numerous state
agencies and programs from across the country. So there has been some initial
contact made, and, you know, we want to help facilitate
some of that again.>>Thank you everybody.>>Thank you.>>Thank you.>>Bye-bye, thank
you, it was great.

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