Striving Together to Support Illinois Veterans

A look at several community collaborations working together to serve veterans.

by Megan Everett, Director, Veterans Program

When veterans come home they do not return to federal agencies; they return to communities across the country. And many of these communities do not have the knowledge, capacity and/or resources to support veterans, especially those facing service-related challenges. While most veterans successfully transition into civilian life, those who need assistance find that the post-service process can be frustrating and support hard to come by.

There are approximately 415,000 veterans in the Chicagoland area, 700,000 in the state of Illinois. The McCormick Foundation veterans program strives to make Illinois the best state for veterans and military families to thrive. One way we approach this mission is to support pathways and networks to coordinated outcome-based programs that provide transitioning service members, veterans and military families ease of access to supportive services. All the jargon aside, we know that one organization whether it be nonprofit, private, or public cannot do it alone. A coordinated network of services and activities working towards a common agenda where organizations are truly integrated and collaborating will allow veterans and their family members to reach their full potential and continue to contribute back to our community as they did while serving our country. Simply, if the mental health agency is networked to the workforce development agency which is in the network of the legal aid clinic that’s connected to a housing agency, veterans and family members are going to receive a more efficient and connected continuum of care.

Community collaborations to serve veterans and family members have emerged across the nation in various forms over the past several years. In April 2012, the Center for New American Security (CNAS) published “Well After Service: Veteran Reintegration and American Communities”, examining veteran wellness models and several leading collaborative efforts around the country to meet veterans’ needs. The report offered a best practices framework for community-based veteran reintegration that is the basis for community models to this day:

  • Build on existing community strengths.
  • Emphasize and/or expand the community potential to realize and sustain positive public health and social welfare outcomes.
  • Foster self-determination among the population being served.

Another study about building community collaborative was produced in June 2016 by Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) which also recognized that there remains a need for more effective collaboration between organizations that service the same population. CNAS produced a new paper in April 2017 called “A Continuum of Collaboration: The Landscape of Community Efforts to Service Veterans” which concluded, amongst many other conclusions, that “communities without formal collaborative activity to serve veterans likely would benefit from some similar activity.” Each of these research papers offers a very thorough and in depth analysis of the evolving collaborative and collective impact efforts in the veteran space and are an excellent resource for any organization or individual working in the field.

Based on this research and studies by many others that work with special populations, the McCormick Veterans Program seeks to support a coordinated network of services in Chicagoland and Illinois. Clearly this is no easy feat but we hope to encourage, facilitate and be true partners in this effort. We continue to learn from the field, both locally and nationally, and strive to connect the dots between organizations at the federal, state, and local levels. While no effort is perfect, with continued cooperation and collaboration, we hope to continue to build a strong network of private, public, and nonprofit partners who understand that as a collective whole, we will best serve veterans and their families.

What are some of the collaborative efforts going on in Chicago and Illinois? We would like to highlight a few efforts that we are supporting. If there is a veteran collaborative network operating in your community, we would love to learn about it:

Our most significant effort to support collaboration amongst organizations is Illinois Joining Forces (IJF). IJF was launched in 2012, through an inter-governmental agreement between the Illinois Departments of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) and Military Affairs (IDMA) as a statewide, public-private network of military and veteran serving organizations working together to improve services for service members, veterans and their families. IJF strives to be the connective tissue amongst the nonprofits serving veterans and their families building a seamless service provider network. It is a partnership of stakeholders—informed by a common goal, committed to creating a collective impact for positive results among the veteran community. Being a statewide network, IJF is working to assemble hubs of services providers, or veteran support communities, across the state.

Hosted by DePaul's Egan Office for Urban Education and Community Partnerships (UECP) the Multi-Faith Veterans Initiative (MVI) is a Chicagoland five-year initiative to identify and develop leadership capacity and a network within Faith Based Organizations (FBO) to benefit veterans and their families by recognizing & utilizing veterans' assets and opportunities for growth. One of the major strategic actions of the MVI is developing competent, service-provider networks that provide ease of navigation and access to pertinent resources for veterans & their families on a timely and consistent basis.

In an effort to extend the collaborative veteran network into other community assets, we recently partnered with the Institute of Museums and Library Services to convene library and museum professionals as well as veteran service organizations. Community Salute is an initiative of the Institute of Museum and Library Services aimed at strengthening the ability of libraries, archives and museums to respond to the needs of veterans and military families.

And there are some exciting potential collaborations on the horizon involving mentorship and a Chicagoland specific collaborative hub. As the most recent CNAS study said, “in theory, the whole should be greater than the sum of its parts. There are great synergies and efficiencies to be realized through effective collaboration, and better efficacy too.”


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