By Nana Aduba Amoah
New grassroots programs are easing delays in veteran services by helping veterans access their Veteran Affairs (VA) benefits. Nonprofits like the Warrior-to-Warrior Project by granting them quicker services and help them transition into the real world.
According to Program Coordinator, Joe Franzese, when some veterans come home they face about 500 days in delay of services. The U.S. government did not predict that the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would last as long as they did, which made the process a lot slower.
“When a veteran gets out, they are entitled to benefits due to their disability,” Franzese said. “With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, [the government] didn’t anticipate them lasting 12 years. They weren’t prepared for the amount of veterans coming out and needing the VA services.”
The Warrior to Warrior program helps veteran access resources such as financial benefits, employment, education, substance abuse, and health. The program counsels veterans with the transition into civilian life, but it also provides them with a trusting friend, something that veterans like Franzese said he struggled with in the past.
“Coming back is kind of a challenge…having to do things on your own, having to figure out and negotiate civilian life, looking for careers for yourself… its all on you to pursue your own education,” he said. “Another thing is… when you’re in the military away from your family, your unit or whoever you’re deployed with your fellow soldiers, airmen, or seamen that is your family so you become accustomed to that.”
The Warrior-to-Warrior program started at the University of Michigan, where programs were collaborating with returning veterans and Michigan National Guard. People began to notice a gap in services because of the wait-time to get into the VA and the fact that there were not enough services for the National Guard.
The University of Michigan worked with Community Partner, a foundation that helps with different military services, to create the Buddy-to-Buddy Program. In 2012, the Health and Disability Advocate took the program to Illinois and renamed it Warrior to Warrior. The program is funded through private lenders and donations, and it prides itself on its unique outreach approach to veterans.
“Instead of waiting for someone to come to your the warrior to warrior program does a lot of outreach to other units,” Franzese said. “We’re reaching out to the community as oppose to that community of people reaching out to us.”