Everyone knows how difficult it is for our troops fighting overseas. Unfortunately, life can still be difficult even after they return from the front lines. Reintegrating back to civilian life can, in many ways, be just as challenging as serving.
All too often, we’ve seen soldiers fall on hard times after serving our country. A disturbing number of veterans wind up on the streets, many right here in Florida. They’ve performed an invaluable service for all Americans, and now United Way of Broward County is doing its part to help return the favor.
United Way of Broward County’s new initiative, “Supporting Broward’s Military Families” is now focusing on this very issue. The Community Impact team has identified a qualified service provider to help provide educational, emotional and financial support to returning service members from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), as well as their families. The collaborative grant was awarded to Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8195 and Nova Southeastern University. Through this new initiative, veterans and their immediate family members will receive support as they transition and readjust to life at home and in the community. United Way of Broward County is providing $750,000 over the span of three years to help provide these critical services.
The need now is more crucial then ever, especially here in the Sunshine State. According to a study presented to Congress in 2009, “Veteran Homelessness: A Supplemental Report”, more than 75,000 veterans in the US were either in a shelter or living on the streets in January 2009. Four states account for almost half of the homeless veteran population, with Florida being one of them. (This mirrors the overall homeless population in the U.S.)
In fact, while most states account for less than 1% of the homeless veteran population, Florida represents a staggering 9.5% of that number. While 8% of the population are veterans in this country, they represent 12% of the homeless population.
Many veterans state that they experience an identity crisis when arriving home. The bonds they share with their fellow soldiers, who become somewhat of a surrogate family to them, are often hard to replicate with their actual families.
Divorce is all too common for returning veterans. The need for services almost immediately upon their return is absolutely necessary. Seemingly ordinary decisions, like what brand of cereal to buy, can sometimes be overwhelming.
When most people hear the word “veterans,” they think of men, but there is a growing number of women now actively involved in war. A recent Sun-Sentinel article written by a Veterans Affairs staffer stated, the percentage of women in the military has doubled in the last 30 years. Forty-four percent of female OIF/OEF veterans have enrolled in VA services, the most of any group.
That’s why United Way of Broward County’s Women’s Leadership Council kicked off its efforts to honor and help Broward County’s female veterans in the spring. The group hosted a private screening of the movie Lioness, which tells the story of the first female soldiers in US History to go into direct combat.
After the movie, the attendees heard firsthand from a panel of women veterans and service providers about the unique challenges women veterans experience when readjusting to life in the community. The panel’s personal stories were incredibly powerful and gave insight as to how service providers can best help soldiers readjust to civilian life, particularly from a woman’s perspective.
Many of the veterans said it was hard to leave behind the things they saw overseas. “You see the worst in people and you’re expected to do the worst to people,” one former soldier said.
The panel also agreed that even in 2011, the military remains a boys club, and how they often feel ignored when they come back to the states. “If I could afford it, I would buy billboards along the highway saying, ‘Welcome home, ladies!’” one panel member said.
For more information about United Way of Broward County’s Supporting Broward’s Military Families initiative, visit http://www.unitedwaybroward.org/health.