How to help a veteran — or how to help a veteran help himself. When Eric Greitens, a Navy SEAL, returned from deployment after surviving an IED explosion, he visited Bethesda Naval Hospital. As he talked to some wounded Marines, he asked them what they were going to do now, since they were wounded. The overwhelming answer was they wanted to continue to serve. As one Marine told him, “I lost my legs — that is all. I did not lose my desire to serve, or my pride in being an American.”
Eric realized that far from wanting to be served, many veterans want to continue to serve. They may be wounded, but they are not incapable of being an asset to society. To help them in their efforts to continue to serve, Greitens used his combat pay, and with two others and their disability checks, The Mission Continues began.
Eric Greitens is a winner of a 2011 SVN Innovation Award for his work founding The Mission Continues, which gives wounded and disabled veterans the economic support to be able to continue to serve. They are not given charity; they establish themselves via fellowships that cover 14-28 weeks, during which the veteran serves at a local charitable organization for between 20 to 40 hours per week. The Mission Continues gives a monetary stipend to offset their living expenses. This helps the veteran translate his/her military skills into civilian skills. The charity that the Fellow is working for is able to utilize the veteran’s experience; the veteran continues to serve while also identifying their strengths and finding their niche in civilian society.
Many wounded veterans, while appreciative of organizations that want to help them, also want to be able to help others. However, they also need to make a living. After all, with the delays in getting VA benefits and the delays in military retirement payments, these veterans need both a reason to get out of bed in the morning and a way to afford a roof over their head.
In a recent report, 11.5% of OIF/OEF veterans are unemployed. The fellowships The Mission Continues provides help the veteran to add civilian skills to their resume, since there are sometimes problems with transferal of military specialties and skills.
Since the first Fellow was funded in November of 2007, 128 Fellowships have been awarded to veterans. These veterans have served in 25 states, from Hawaii to Maine. Their service to their community includes teaching tae kwon do to underprivileged youth, training service dogs and building houses with Habitat for Humanity. They have worked with and served Big Brothers Big Sisters,Veteran Green Jobs, Team River Runner, East Coast Assistance Dogs, Navy Safe Harbor at Bethesda Naval Hospital and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
April Jones, an Army Veteran of Afghanistan, has been working as a Fellow with the Nashville International Center for Empowerment and will serve in the youth program. Nicole Aragon, an Air Force Veteran, is going to be working as a Life Skills teacher at Shade Tree Women’s Shelter, continuing to help others as she had when she was a liaison for rape victims in the Air Force Justice System. Josue Acevedo, a wounded veteran of OIF, works with East Coast Assistance Dogs as a way to pay back the group that helped him find the canine companion that has given him so much. These veterans and the others listed on the website as current fellows have made the decision to continue to serve their community.
Almost all of the Fellows have gone on to secure full-time employment, some have enrolled in college, and some have continued to serve their communities in other ways. While they are Fellows, their ongoing reports include their impact on the community. Their supervisors provide regular updates on progress and involvement and there is a post-Fellowship plan in place to assist the Fellow in planning for their future, whether it be education, employment, or a continued “role of service.”
Not only does The Mission Continues work with veterans in the Fellowship program, there is also a Service Projects Program. A recent report From The Mission Continues celebrated that 15,908 volunteers have completed 64,881 hours of service in 282 service projects across the nation. There are major national service days, such as the day of remembrance on September 11, Veterans Day, etc.
The Mission Continues Challenge is an initiative asking all Americans to take 10 minutes to learn about issues facing post-9/11 veterans, tell 10 friends about what they’ve learned, and donate $10 to challenge this generation of veterans to become citizen leaders.
There are veterans organizations, both large and traditional as well as small and innovative. Most are “service” organizations, serving the needs of veterans. These are necessary and will continue to grow in this time of budget cuts, and the increased need of the veterans of the last 10 years of two wars. The Mission Continues offers a different approach: they view veterans as “assets not problems, and we offer them a challenge, not charity.”
Eric Greitens will be speaking on Friday, October 28, 2011 at the SVN Innovations Awards in Philadelphia.