By Lisa Ferdinando
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
LOS ANGELES, March 24, 2015 – After serving the nation with distinction and courage, America's veterans deserve support and opportunities in their communities for success in post-military life, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told an audience at the University of Southern California here yesterday.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey highlighted the school's efforts, including collaboration with the city and private organizations, as a shining example of what other locales can do to tailor veterans programs to meet the specific needs of a community.
"What you have done here is both unique and inspirational,” he said. “And probably more important, it's effective.”
The USC School of Social Work's Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families, or CIR, seeks to strengthen the support network for veterans and their families.
The center works with veterans initiatives through the mayor's office and administers the Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative, a group of more than 300 organizations that have created a network referral system to link veterans with services, benefits and opportunities.
Dempsey encouraged the sharing of those best practices to help other cities around the United States adopt successful initiatives.
The top U.S. military officer said he will share the success story with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald.
"My message to you is, 'well done,'" Dempsey said. "The highest compliment you can give in the military is 'well done' and get out of the way."
A Look at Veterans’ Challenges
Last year, CIR released the Los Angeles County Veterans Study, a comprehensive look at the challenges faced by members of the county's veteran population. With feedback from 1,850 veterans, it is perhaps the largest survey of its kind, according to Army Col. Jim Isenhower, the director of the Chairman's Office of Reintegration.
Los Angeles is of particular concern to the chairman because of the high rates of veteran homelessness and unemployment, Isenhower said.
"One of the challenges for veterans is that there are so many entities out there trying to help us, that it's almost overwhelming," he said, noting that the Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative helps ensure veterans don't fall through the cracks.
Isenhower said the military has a “moral responsibility to help set conditions for those men and women to transition and land successfully and contribute as civic assets back in the civilian community," he said.
Assisting Troops’ Transition to Civilian Life
Caring for those who have worn the uniform is an important aspect in maintaining the all-volunteer force, Dempsey said. Pointing out that it may sound counterintuitive, the chairman said the military needs to think about a member's departure and how to help in the transition long before the service member separates.
"We need the very best of America to serve,” he said. “And when they do, we need to make sure we take care of them, not only while they are serving but when they finish their service -- and that includes not just them, but their families."
Veterans have incredible experiences, courage, and values that make them an important part of the nation's fabric, Dempsey said. Sometimes veterans need a one-time boost to help them bounce back from a challenge, he added.
"There's a huge number of these young men and women who really don't need a handout -- they just need a handshake," Dempsey said.
The military is wise to support community efforts to help those who have worn the uniform, since the best programs for veterans, the chairman said, generally come from the bottom up.
Service, Commitment to Veterans of Los Angeles
The event here also featured Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Navy reservist, who said when veterans’ service ends, they should receive "much more than a smile, and a hug, and a ‘thanks.’"
They need to be welcomed back into civilian life "with a job, with an education, with housing, with the things that they need to continue on with their lives," Garcetti said.
The president of USC, C.L. Max Nikias, spoke of the university's proud support for veterans and said service is at the heart of the school.
"USC is an institution of uncommon depth that is helping veterans and their families confront a variety of complex issues that are all too common," he said.