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Panelists Discuss Assistance Available to Help Returning War Heroes Make Transition Back into Communities

By Larry Jones
January 30, 2012

Hallandale (FL) Mayor Joy Cooper and Sumter (SC) Mayor Joseph Mc Elveen welcomed a distinguished group of speakers to discuss plans underway for assisting war heroes returning from Afghanistan and Iraq with jobs, training, veterans courts and other supportive services during a January 20 meeting of the Community and Military Relations Task Force. As co-chairs of the task force, both mayors told delegates attending the meeting that mayors across the nation are interested in partnering with all levels of governments and the private sector to help returning military service members and their families make a smooth transition back into their communities.

U.S. Navy Capitan Brad Cooper, director of the White House Office of the First Lady's Joining Forces program, told mayors that companies across America have answered President Barack Obama's challenge to hire or train 135,000 unemployed veterans and their spouses by 2013. He said others have also committed to improving education and wellness opportunities for veterans and military families. In response to the challenge he said 1,500 companies have already hired 30,000 veterans and many more are expected to be hired over the next two years. In education, he said a number of organizations including the National Math and Science Initiative, National PTA, American Association of Colleges for Teachers, Best Buy's Geek Squad and Intel have all committed to major initiatives to support academic achievement of military children, and expand education and training opportunities for veterans and their spouses.

To improve wellness, Cooper said Joining Forces has engaged many association and organizations representing primary care and mental health specialists to promote collaboration, sharing of the best practices and expansion of exemplary models of care to reach all military families. To promote public awareness, he explained that commitments also include activities to ensure that Americans are informed about the unique challenges and needs of military families and their strength, resilience and service.

Barbara Thompson, Director of the Department of Defense Office of Family Policy/Child and Youth Services, reminded mayors that two-thirds of military service men and women live in communities outside military bases. "They attend churches and shop in shopping centers in your cities," she said. Thompson pointed out that her office offers a wide variety of services to assist military families including family support, children and youth support, family advocacy, morale, welfare and recreation, and state liaison and educational opportunities. She mentioned the importance of an interstate compact signed by 39 states that assist children in military families who move constantly to make sure they don't lose school credits. She also spoke about "Let's Move Cities and Towns," First lady Michelle Obama's call to mayors and other elected officials to adopt a long-term approach to fighting childhood obesity. Mayors were urged to make physical fitness a priority to help promote healthy communities and contain health care costs.

Matthew Stiner, Director of Outreach at Justice for Veterans, discussed Veterans Treatment Courts, special courts that have emerged over the past three years to work with troubled veterans. He told mayors these courts help veterans get counseling, link to government benefits, regain the sense of discipline and camaraderie they had in uniform, and steer them to a more positive course in life. Stiner explained that veterans face a variety of challenges one in six has substance abuse issues and one in five has mental health issues. He told mayors that he started his career working for local government. After his service in the Marine Corp, he said he was fortunate enough to work for former Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor, assisting homeless and other needy veterans in the community. He said the overall goal of Veterans Courts is to help rehabilitate troubled veterans instead of incarcerating them. Justice for Veterans serves as a national clearinghouse for Veterans Treatment Courts. The first Veterans Treatment Court was created in New York in 2008. Today there are 88 such courts spread across the nation and many more are being planned.