Chicago furthers efforts to provide veteran support

By Hallie Zolkower-Kutz

Several new programs have been introduced as part of Chicago’s ongoing effort to help veterans transition back to civilian life, making education more accessible and trying to lower the veteran unemployment rate.

During the Nov. 12 Veterans Day Parade, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, a veteran of the 101st Airborne Division, encouraged employers to hire men and women returning from the military.

“When I hire a person who has served in the military, I know I’m going to get the best bang for my buck,” White said. “I’m going to get someone who is committed to duty and will [carry out] those duties to the best of their ability.”

Numerous organizations are working to increase benefits and services for veterans. Volunteers of America and the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program partnered to create Hope Manor II, the country’s first affordable housing development, located in Englewood, specifically for veterans and their families. The plans were approved by the Community Development Commission Nov. 13, according to Nancy Hughes Moyer, president and CEO of Volunteers of America of Illinois.

“The goals of those programs are self-sufficiency, real employment and housing,” Moyer said. “You have to look at all legs of the stool. If one leg is not there, it causes the whole stool to fall.”Moyer said she thinks veterans need the most assistance with finding employment.

“If we don’t have concrete employment strategies in place for these veterans, everything else we do will at some point fall flat,” she said. “All of these things really have to work together in order to be effective in the long term.”

Moyer said she hopes the recent veteran initiatives proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, such as increased student financial aid at the City Colleges of Chicago and a partnership with The Coca-Cola Foundation that provides employment opportunities, will help both returning service members and the city.

“I think [initiatives] giving veterans a leg up in terms of employment opportunities for jobs the city controls has an opportunity to influence the [Chicago job market]” Moyer said.

Finding these resources is often the biggest issue facing veterans after they return home, according to U.S. Army veteran Scott Kebler.

“If it’s not given to the veterans directly, they’re not going to know about them,” Kebler said. “The resources are there, it’s just getting them that’s the problem.”

Kebler said he receives disability checks, full tuition at Oakton Community College, a housing allowance and a stipend for books and supplies through the federal Post-9/11 GI Bill. He said he counts himself lucky because he was given a case manager who helped him receive the benefits he qualifies for as a disabled veteran.

As the city works to expand economic support for veterans, it should also offer emotional support to those returning from service, said Erik Lobo, a member of Veterans for Peace, an anti-war group.

“Doctors at the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] throw [veterans] these prescriptions, and there’s no real support system,” Lobo said. “People can’t get help from the VA to deal with the stress or pain.”

Veteran mortality, especially by suicide or drug overdose, has been on the rise, according to a study published Sept. 20 by the American Public Health Association. Lobo said he knows veterans who have come close to self-destruction.

“I’ve seen young vets get deep into drugs and alcohol,” he said. “It’s self-medication.”

Kebler said the most difficult part of returning from service is transitioning back to civilian life.

“[Being back] is definitely different,” he said. “Returning veterans have to be proactive. Your resources are there; you just have to look for them.”