States can coordinate efforts across public and private agencies and across sectors to support service members, veterans, and their families.
While many state and local governments offer useful services and supports for military-connected families, those families may not know how to access the supports. By the same token, states and communities eager to support military-connected families may not know how and where to find them.
To help bridge the gap between military and civilian communities, some states have formed what are called Inter-Service Family Assistance Committees, or ISFACs.
A federal interagency report, “Strengthening our Military Families,” outlined the idea for ISFACs as a response to Presidential Study #9, which aimed to make military families a priority. The report called on states to capitalize on what Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has called the “sea of goodwill” that exists toward service members and their families.
ISFACs convene various stakeholders ranging from national nonprofits to community-based volunteers. For example, an ISFAC might include National Guard and Reserve organizations; non-governmental organizations such as faith-based organizations; veterans’ service organizations and state veterans’ affairs organizations; local chambers of commerce, or state employment offices.
There are a number of other models available for states or non-profits to choose from or adapt, including: Community Covenants, Army Communities of Excellence, Yellow Ribbon Communities and Community Blueprints.
What States Are Doing
New Hampshire organized a Deployment Cycle Support Program (DCSP) in 2008. The state’s National Guard, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, and Easter Seals work together in a private-public partnership. “The program,” says New Hampshire National Guard Brigadier General Deb Carter, “just used what was already there” and created a framework that was good for “soldiers, kids, communities, and systems.”
Jo Moncher, the state’s Bureau Chief of Community Based Military Programs and Services (HHS), says that the three agencies “felt like they needed to do something” to help their state’s veterans and military families. Easter Seals, in particular, has always been committed to veterans, as the organization focuses on helping people with disabilities, including veterans with physical injuries.
Daisy Wojewoda of Easter Seals NH and DCSP’s project manager says that Easter Seals has a long history of working closely with NH DHHS, but forming a partnership with DHHS and the NH National Guard was “new and exciting.” The three organizations formed a steering committee with all the stakeholders.
As the steering committee investigated military family life, it became immediately clear that many home life problems could have been mitigated, or avoided altogether, if they had been detected early and families had been able to seek help without fearing stigma. Wojewoda also realized that military families were unaware of available services, and service providers didn’t know how to reach out and help military families.
Meanwhile, Gen. Carter and others in the National Guard realized that some returning service members were engaging in heavy drinking and other potentially problematic behaviors. “As much as we had done,” she says, referring to the Guard’s three-day reunion and reentry program, “people were falling through the cracks in major ways. There were layers of snowballing crises,” such as domestic, financial, and legal troubles.
National Guard and Reserve families were struggling in isolation: teachers, neighbors, and community members didn’t understand their situations, and would often unknowingly make insensitive comments. While these families may have needed assistance, Wojewoda realized they already dealt with enough red tape and enough travel. Gen. Carter agreed: She felt asking families to drive two to four hours for VA counseling was unreasonable. And social service agencies were better equipped than the Guard to help the families.
Once the three groups had laid the foundation for the DCSP, they approached the Department of Defense to approve a pilot program. The partnership’s hallmark is its use of “care coordinators.” Easter Seals trained over 100 coordinators who could go into military homes before deployments and act as champions and liaisons.
Families get regular calls and visits from their coordinators, who can help address a wide variety of needs including financial management, transportation to and from medical appointments, counseling, employment assistance, housing assistance, child care, and respite care.
A family struggling to make ends meet might get help in areas as diverse as buying tools for odd jobs, insulating windows to save on heating bills, or going to court to solve child custody issues. “It’s not viewed as a handout;” instead, the tone is “let us give you the support you need to fix the problem.” Care workers approach families to say, “let us serve you; it’s an honor.” They understand how to work with families who know how to keep a “stiff upper lip.”
Wojewoda calls this approach “stealth” clinical work. Families don’t feel like they’ve been singled out for having problems. Instead, they feel like they’ve been granted an extra set of eyes and ears. Moreover, their support can continue for five years after service members come home.
Gen. Carter explains that while the program is voluntary, it is integrated so seamlessly into the deployment cycle that families accept it as part of the normal process. And Gen. Carter believes that the program’s strict confidentiality is comforting to families receiving care.
NH Easter Seals also operates a separate but attached “Veterans Count” philanthropic arm, which provided vital start-up funds and continues to offer emergency funds to families with financial problems.
As a sign of the program’s success, costs have actually been reduced over the years as communities integrated military families into existing programs, for example, by making veterans eligible to use local mental health clinics. Costs per case have declined from $400 per month in 2008 to $250 per month in 2011. Similarly, DCSP has made over 800 referrals to organizations outside DCSP.
As of October 2011, DCSP had served 1,200 military families served across state, providing 17,900 hours of direct services provided. Another measure of success? DCSP reports that its clients in the New Hampshire Army Guard are four times more likely than non-DCSP clients to stay in the military when it is time to reenlist.
- Jo Moncher
Community Based Military Programs
Department of Health and Human Services
- Daisy Wojewoda, M.S., CRC, CVE; Project Director
Deployment Cycle Support Program/Veterans Count
Easter Seals NH, Inc.
Florida operates Community Covenants thanks to the initiative of Rae Pike, a Vietnam generation civilian nurse whose fiancée was killed in Vietnam and who saw firsthand how her generation of veterans were mistreated. After volunteering for a Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) event, she felt compelled to do more.
When Pike attended a United States Army Recruiting Command (USAREC) educators’ tour at Fort Benning, Georgia, the USAREC Jacksonville Battalion staff suggested that she implement a community covenant in her own community. Recognizing the need for a local support system that could help dispersed isolated Reserve members, National Guard, and transitioning veterans, she took the idea back to Madison, Florida: a small, rural town with a rich military history.
She collaborated with her City Commission and North Central Florida regional Planning Counsel; local non-profits, including faith-based organizations, Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs); local newspapers; and other non-federal government actors.
As the project grew, so did its recognition across the state. On February 5, 2011, Madison and Florida state leaders gathered to officially sign the Madison Military and Family Community Covenant. Florida Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll, the state’s Assistant Adjutant General, and members of the Jacksonville Recruiting Battalion all signed on.
By signing the covenant, agencies, organizations, and private citizens in Madison and North Florida banded together to support military families. By mid-2011, the group had identified more than 50 local military-connected families and was working to meet their needs, such as tax preparation, home repairs, and medical transportation.
On April 5, 2011, Florida’s governor signed a statewide Military and Family Community Covenant resolution. Pike has since started working to create a Veteran’s Community Welcome Center, which will become the state headquarters for Community Covenant initiatives.
- Rae Pike, Army Advocate
Florida Military Family & Community Covenant
Arizona’s Coalition for Military Families (ACMF), originally a program designed by the Arizona National Guard under a different name, transitioned to a public/private partnership in August 2009. The transition granted program access to all Arizona service members, veterans, and their families.
ACMF’s purpose was developed after assessments of major military installations and interviews with community partners and service members. ACMF determined that while many programs and services existed to serve Arizona’s military-connected citizens, there was not enough collaboration between the programs. As of October 2011 the Coalition was working on several efforts to aid service members and their families.
- The coalition’s cornerstone “Guidelines for CARE Project” lays out guidelines for how to best provide care and relate to service members and veterans. The guidelines provide information on military culture and other issues that a civilian would not know without direct involvement with the military. By providing trainings and information sessions to both public and private sectors, the Guidelines for CARE Project aims to equip the non-military sector in relating to and working with service members and their families.
- The Military and Veteran Family Employment and Education Initiative assists service members, veterans, and family members find education and employment opportunities. Additionally, a web-based portal allows service members free access to a resume-building tool, online document storage, and a personalized job portal.
- The Arizona National Guard’s Be Resilient Plan helps servicemembers find support to address the stress that often manifests after deployments to war zones in the form of post-traumatic stress or difficulties in family relationships. The program integrates government and private programs and offers separate strategies for prevention, intervention, and postvention (interventions that follow suicides). The Be Resilient Plan offers both direct support for service and referrals to resources internal to the Arizona National Guard.
- Military Immersion Training aims to support civilian health, behavioral health, social service and community providers who work with military members. After gaining insights into daily military life, the service providers can more appropriately relate to those they serve. Military Immersion Training provides civilians with experiences such as staying in barracks, eating prepackaged military meals, or listening to servicemembers talk about their deployments.
- Nicola Winkel
- A Department of Defense guide to developing a state ISFAC suggests a series of simple steps states can use to establish their own committees. At a minimum, the guide suggests that websites can offer links to relevant hotlines such as suicide prevention and family crisis .The guide cautions, however, that websites do not always promote real action/
- Community Covenants guide by the US Army
- States can purchase ready-made platforms that help consolidate service directories. One such service is the “Network of Care” platform, the method of choice for California, Colorado, Maryland, Oregon and Texas. Counties or states can purchase this through the National Association of Counties.
The Network website describes its service as a highly interactive, single information place where consumers, community-based organizations, and municipal government workers can go to easily access a wide variety of important information. The site links visitors to a wide range of available services in their state or region based on highly specific needs.
The “virtual community” includes: a service directory; links to other websites; a library and bill tracking service (updated daily); a political advocacy tool; and community message boards.