Veteran services

Veterans services are especially critical during the COVID-19 crisis

Veterans are one of the most resilient segments of our society. Only about 1% of our country is currently in service, and those who choose to serve bear the burden of responding to significant threats to our communities and the country as a whole. Some people decide to enter the service on active duty, while others choose the reserves or the national guard. All are important to our collective health and safety, especially in times of crisis.

As of April 3, 11 states have mobilized nearly 20,000 Guard soldiers in response to COVID-19, and coronavirus-related deaths nationwide number in the thousands. We depend on the resilience and strength of those who serve, but we don’t always catch veterans and service members when the systems designed to support them aren’t enough.

Despite their resilience, this public health crisis will negatively affect veterans and their families unless leaders in the veterans services space organize and act. It’s unclear whether veterans and their families can still access critical services in person, and guidelines from local, state and federal entities change almost daily. Additionally, there is no central repository of reliable information on resources and services for veterans; it was already a significant challenge before COVID-19.

Long before COVID-19 hit the region, the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs began to develop a web-based system to fill this gap, VETCONNECT. VETCONNECT could have a huge impact on how service providers coalesce around a major issue like this in the future. Veterans and their families deserve nothing less. Now is the time for our community to combine efforts to push this important system over the finish line so that veterans can efficiently find the resources and services they need.

Meanwhile, organizations such as The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic and our partner Vets4 Warriorsare taking steps to support veterans and their families during this difficult time through the use of telehealth and 24-hour peer-to-peer telephone support. Multi-service center for veteransa community partner providing direct case management support, works tirelessly to help veterans meet some of their most basic needs, such as housing and employment.

Many veterans and their families face challenges such as loss of income or being asked to coordinate their children’s education overnight. Organizations like PA Wounded Warriorsthe Pen Fed Foundation and others work to help eligible veterans who are in financial difficulty. National Military Families Association constantly pushing resources for parents with school children.

During this unprecedented time, organizations like those listed above are finding innovative ways to meet this challenge and continue to serve the veteran community. Many are hosting virtual events to answer questions and provide access to much-needed resources. On Monday, nine Philadelphia-area military and veteran organizations came together to a virtual town hallincluding the Cohen Clinic in Penn, Travis Manion Foundation, four blocks, and representatives from the VA, PADMVA and the City of Philadelphia. The virtual town hall featured last-minute updates on veterans services, as well as the panelists answering questions from the public submitted in advance. To find out more about the event, visit: https://bit.ly/PHLvets-covid19.

Let’s face it, COVID-19 has changed the way we all function in our daily lives. However, it is important for veterans facing these challenges to know that there are organizations and resources that can help them. At a time like this, you really need a village.


Pete Freudenberger is a US Army Veteran and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). He holds the position of Head of Awareness Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania.