Veterans Group Shifts Services to Assist Members Affected by Hurricanes

An association serving Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is using Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria to remind members about its support programs.

The recent rash of hurricanes on the East Coast and Caribbean have prompted one association to pivot one of its services toward members affected by the storms.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a membership organization of 425,000 post-9/11 U.S. military veterans, launched its Rapid Response Referral Program in 2012 as a way to help members handle vet-specific needs for medical, legal, and housing assistance, as well as navigate red tape within the Veterans Administration and other government agencies serving veterans. IAVA has a team of four on-staff case managers, all with social-worker training, who work directly with veterans to establish needs and connect them with the appropriate federal agencies or support groups. Initially launched in IAVA’s home state of New York, RRRP has since expanded nationally.

Problems don’t fade away when the headlines do.

IAVA says that since RRRP began, it has supported more than 8,100 veterans and provided more than 9,400 referrals, most related to mental illness, housing, and employment. In the aftermath of the hurricanes, IAVA reached out directly to veterans in the affected areas.

“We always look for places where we can help. That’s why highly skilled IAVA social workers were available to help veterans impacted by hurricanes,” says Vadim Panasyuk, director of RRRP. “We work everyday to educate, advocate, and assist veterans in need, and responding to the recent hurricanes was no different.”

In a statement, IAVA Director of Political and Intergovernmental Affairs Melissa Bryant says that Puerto Rico, which was struck by Hurricane Maria last month, is home to more than 100,000 veterans. That, combined with Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, have prompted IAVA to push reminders of its RRRP program with a specific focus on those affected. Caseworkers have been trained to respond to questions about shelters, FEMA and Red Cross assistance, and other needs specific to the affected regions.

Thus far, says Panasyuk, the RRRP has assisted 10 clients affected by hurricanes: four in Texas, five in Florida, and one in Puerto Rico. “We encourage more veterans to reach out to RRRP if they are struggling to recover,” says Panasyuk. “As we know, problems don’t fade away when the headlines do.”

IAVA has also used its RRRP program to advocate for the importance of data gathering when providing support services for veterans. In testimony before the New York City Council’s Committee on Veterans on Monday, IAVA Chief Program Officer Anthony Pike testified that members are surveyed in every case that RRRP is involved in, with veterans encouraged to rank the quality of both the organizations their referred to and IAVA’s own staff. “We are in the process of adding even more metrics to our assessments in order to better understand our population, better serve our clients, and make targeted improvements,” he said.

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Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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