Leaving your home, your family and your country to serve as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces takes guts, strength and dedication. So it’s a tragedy that many of our veterans must begin a completely new struggle once they’re back home on American soil.
For Jackie Thompson (not her real name), that struggle went beyond even finding a home and a job. After she returned from a four-year stint in the Navy as an aviation support equipment technician, she landed in a relationship that all too quickly turned abusive. Leaving that relationship meant starting all over again. But by now she had a young disabled daughter to care for, and no one to help her. She packed a small truck with her few possessions and moved with her daughter from Obama, Nebraska, to Phoenix, Arizona, believing things would be better there. Just 30 years old, she was homeless, jobless and unsure where to turn.
“When I got to Phoenix, I just dove online and started looking for help for veterans,” she told LifeZette.
She spent weeks trying to find the services she needed, she said.
“I would speak to these groups and say, ‘Can you help me? I’m a Navy veteran.'”
The problem-plagued Phoenix VA, not surprisingly, put her on a months-long waiting list.
Finally, she found Code of Support.
The Code of Support Foundation, which launched in July 2011, is a national nonprofit that helps struggling service members, veterans and their families with complex needs. It accesses the nation’s full range of resources to make sure our military and veterans receive the critical support and services they deserve.
But may not even realize exist. Based in Alexandria, Virginia, Code of Support provides personalized one-on-one assistance through a case worker system so that no military member falls through the cracks.
Aided for the past year by caseworker Christina Baumayr, Thompson and her 8-year-old daughter have now moved into a wheelchair-accessible home, their very own home.
"We moved in about two months ago, and we also have a wheelchair-accessible van," said Thompson, now 31. "That was one of my biggest hurdles, just transporting my daughter around. She's not very mobile, and with all of the equipment she needs, I wasn't really able to do very much for her before this."
Code of Support located and delivered a donated van to Thompson and her daughter. The foundation also shared a cash donation with Thompson so she and her daughter could have a decent Thanksgiving dinner this past holiday after the challenges they'd endured.
Ever grateful, Thompson is not one to complain. But she acknowledges the struggles that are so familiar to many of our military who return home after years of war and who have no ready-made support system.
"You're expected just to dive back into civilian life, just like that. I was so lost at first," said Thompson, fighting back emotion. "The camaraderie and the people you meet in the military are like none other in your life. When you leave that, there's a huge disconnect. Everyone around you is a stranger. In the military I had quite a few friends, and we all bonded over the trauma we had experienced together, but I'm a loner, really. Once back home, I just didn't have anybody."
This young mother fought on, however. She earned a degree in computer drafting, and today she works from home so she can be by her daughter's side. She is homeschooling her daughter.
Her Code of Support caseworker checks in on her regularly.
"She calls me. I call her. There's someone there for you when you're at your lowest," said Thompson. "She is actually helping me and other people like me who are at a crossroads."
"We wanted to actually meet the very real and urgent needs among our military, not just raise awareness," Kristy Kaufmann, executive director of Code of Support, told LifeZette. "We have a team of people who work directly with our service members and their families to help find and leverage the multiple resources each person typically needs."
Of the 22 million veterans right now in the U.S., an estimated 30 percent of them are in crisis and require "wrap-around support" for their needs, according to Code of Support.
At the same time, there are more than 40,000 nonprofits as well as thousands of local and federal government agencies that exist, allegedly, to help veterans. But many of these are small, local, and of limited scope. How do our veterans find the groups that can best serve them? How do they get access to the right services? Even in the best of situations, wading through everything that's out there takes diligence and resourcefulness.
Code of Support says it realized that no single agency, government or nonprofit was able to address every one of the needs of our veterans in dire circumstances. So the group has created a pilot program called PATRIOTLink, a cloud-based navigation platform of strategic veteran support resources.
The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation so believed in the promise of PATRIOTLink that in January it awarded Code of Support a $525,000 grant to help develop the service.
"Bristol-Myers Squibb joins us as a partner to significantly increase and facilitate coordination between service providers across sectors and locales," retired Army Maj. Gen. Alan B. Salisbury, Code of Support's CEO, said in a statement.
"Veterans leaving military service and their families face a range of issues, from physical and mental health challenges to housing, employment and education to a lack of social connections," John Damonti, president of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, added in the joint statement. "We're proud to assist Code of Support's efforts to minimize the barriers veterans and their families face to ensure they can find and obtain the best possible support" for their needs.
Since last April, Code of Support has vetted more than 2,000 organizations that serve the U.S. military in order to include them in the PATRIOTLink pilot launching this year. They'll continue combing through more. Resources are organized by such criteria as service era, disability rating, discharge status, deployment history, geographic coverage and population assisted. The work will ultimately link up veterans with the services they need in a vastly more efficient and targeted way.
Said Jackie Thompson, "My situation was so overwhelming. The initiative that Code of Support has shown in making sure things got done, such as finding a donated van for me and my daughter, was unbelievable. Other people have said they cared, and I'm sure they did. But people live their lives, and I get that. I just know if I have a question and I need to call Code of Support, they are there to help me. It has been life-changing."
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