For Veterans Who’ve Served Others, An Opportunity To Be Served
Homecoming for some military veterans doesn’t always include a home. Employment, health and other challenges may create instability for new veterans and their families.
For Iraq War veteran Brandon Dunston, the North Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A, forecast on a Friday in late June overflowed with joy, opportunity and hope. Joy at being reunited with his 11-year-old daughter after a 12-month, 1,700-mile separation; opportunity as he looked to continue his secondary education; and hope for the future as Dunston and his daughter moved into permanent housing for the first time.
Just two short months ago, life looked much stormier.
“I was in Arizona for the last year and things were okay for a while, but some hardship happened… and I was in a hard place. I was going to come up here with family and kind of bounce around and I didn’t want that, especially having a daughter,” Dunston says.
An eight-year veteran of the U.S. Army, Dunston’s experience is an all-too-familiar one for many other veterans transitioning back to civilian life after years of military service. The myriad challenges they face – employment, health and reconnecting with family – are so closely intertwined that a setback in one area can create a domino effect of instability for these veterans and their families.
Veterans make up about 9 percent of the population, yet 13 percent of the homeless population. While not all returning servicemen and women will face homelessness, they may experience other types of housing insecurity such as costs disproportionate to their income.
"(The words) 'veterans' and 'homeless' should never be in the same sentence," said Mary Lockhart White, executive director and CEO of Community Action Partnership of Lake County (CAPOLC), which assists veterans and their families (including Dunston’s) in the transition to permanent housing.
While the reasons some veterans may find themselves housing insecure or homeless are complex, post-traumatic stress disorder, poor credit, lack of financial management skills, challenges with employment and family dynamics may all play a role.
“A lot of times, especially with our young folks coming back from overseas, it may be hard for them to be integrated back into society… If their families aren’t able to assist or deal with these issues they could experience housing instability or homelessness,” says Jennifer Olden, program manager for the residential homeless program at the James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago.
The Department of Veteran's Affairs provides assistance to those with housing insecurity, but many veterans may not be aware of the resources or know how to access them, making partnership with social service organizations key.
For the past year, members of the veterans’ employee resource group (ERG) at AbbVie’s Lake County, Illinois, U.S.A, headquarters had been helping their fellow servicemen and women on community housing projects.
During AbbVie’s Week of Possibilities – a time when over 5,500 AbbVie employees in more than 50 countries volunteered to serve the needs of the communities where they live and work – these same veteran employees led the charge to help Dunston and two other veterans move into new, permanent houses.
Partnering with CAPOLC, nearly 150 AbbVie employees cleaned, painted and repaired the three homes. The service project culminated in a key ceremony, which had special meaning to volunteers like Army veteran and AbbVie employee Jennifer Murphy.
“I’ve been out of the Army for a while, and to have found a company that actually allows me to go volunteer somewhere during a workday and puts resources behind it is particularly meaningful. I’m proud of my service and haven’t had an opportunity to use it at any other company until I came to AbbVie,” Murphy says.
Retired Air Force Col. and head of AbbVie’s veterans ERG Richard “Duke” Hazdra spoke on behalf of the entire company at the key ceremony, closing out a week in which so many AbbVie employees made possibilities real, “Thank you for your service to this country and for keeping the air, land and sea safe.”