Leaders of the veterans services organization explain how they are supporting veterans throughout the pandemic.
Since its inception in 1920, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) has worked with the Department of Veterans Affairs and partner organizations to ensure veterans receive all of their benefits. Especially since the onset of COVID-19, the Veterans Services Organization (VSO) has accelerated its work to ensure veterans continue to have access to innovative healthcare offerings.
“DAV’s mission is rooted in service – and as veterans needed us most, as many lost their jobs, became ill or isolated at home – DAV members, volunteers and staff quickly pivoted to provide the resources needed to help those in need,” DAV National Commander Stephen Whitehead said at the organization’s 2021 National Convention in Tampa, Fla., this past weekend.
To respond to COVID-19, DAV quickly stood up and staffed a new toll-free hotline for veterans to contact experts for help with claims and benefits. In 2020, DAV services helped veterans and their families obtain more than $23 billion in earned benefits.
DAV also established the COVID-19 Unemployment Relief Fund in April to provide financial assistance to service-connected veterans with disabilities who have lost their jobs or small business income as a result of the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, many ill and injured veterans … found themselves out of work or at risk of losing their small business as a disabled veteran. Ultimately, veterans and their families lost income, and DAV had to find a way to help them put food on the table and pay their bills. Urgent needs warranted immediate action,” Whitehead said.
With the economic downturn, DAV has also shifted its employment services to virtual platforms to ensure veterans can continue their job search. As a result, thousands of veterans received job offers and DAV was able to stay in touch with the veteran community.
“You have to take care of food, clothing and housing. So you look at the resources needed to [veterans] to succeed. So, make sure if they had any disabilities that can overcome them. And not only do you get a job, but substantial, well-paying employment,” Randy Reese, executive director of DAV’s Washington headquarters, told GovernmentCIO Media & Research.
DAV has partnered with RecruitMilitary and hosts more than 160 job fairs, Reese said, noting that DAV is “very good at getting those [veterans and their spouses] placed in high-demand jobs.
One of DAV’s top priorities throughout the pandemic was to ensure veterans always had access to quality health care. VA has reported more than 272,000 cases of COVID-19 among veterans, with more than 12,679 veteran deaths.
“During this pandemic, VA has had to make drastic changes in the way it delivers healthcare, dramatically increasing telehealth services and adapting to the ever-changing landscape,” Whitehead said at the event. . “While the VA has worked hard to keep veterans in touch with their mental health providers, we are concerned that many have faced dark times and been isolated from friends and family, perhaps without outlets, support systems and resources they relied on in the past.”
Whitehead noted that DAV has embarked on a collaborative effort to address veteran suicide prevention. Over the past year, VA has passed new policies that allow for increased support for mental health and suicide prevention efforts, including the Commander John Scott Hannon Act and the Veterans Compact Act of 2020.
By collaborating with VA, DAV is able to expand its offering and host a variety of unique activities. Reese said DAV expanded its collaboration with VA and the Department of Defense about 20 years ago.
“We started placing Transitional Service officers on military bases that had high discharge rates so that we could not only help them with their claims process, but also with the employment contract,” he said. he declares. “This program is greatly expanded and we are at over 100 bases now.
Reese noted that increased awareness and visibility of veterans’ needs, through events such as the annual DAV convention, fosters an open relationship between VSOs, veterans, and VAs, so these organizations can respond quickly. the needs of the veteran community.
“While we have many challenges ahead, we know that if we work together to tackle internal and external barriers, we can make progress, such as expanded access to benefits and health care,” said Whitehead.