After holding its first town hall meeting and public work session on veteran issues, the MyVA Cascadia Board met to discuss next steps in early March. The following steps are being taken to address issues brought to the attention of the board.
One of the most difficult issues to address since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has been a central resource directory for veterans and families. Attempts have been made, such as the Oregon National Guard’s Fort Oregon website and the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs Resource Directory. However, we were told during this first town hall meeting that information still is hard to find and much more much be done to educate people as to where they can find these resources.
The MyVA Cascadia Board is going to take another shot at developing a centralized resource list for the Portland VA Health Care System catchment area. It is not that resources don’t exist – they do! That is the good news. The hard part is ensuring everyone knows about them. Once we compile a list of resources we know are stable and long-standing (in the past transient organizations coming and going have confused the issue) we will work on communication, including using the federal VA to send information to veterans enrolled in its programs.
We are blessed to have Tonja Pardo from the United States Department of Labor on our board. Tonja and her crew routinely do job fairs, but two issues were brought to light. First, getting the word out beyond the regular target audience, which is mostly the National Guard, so that other veterans can attend these events. Second, including more employers, which means reaching out to the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Clubs, the Portland City Club, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the Associated Oregon Industries.
Another idea was to couple job fairs with Stand Downs and other veteran events, including town halls so that one event is drawing more veterans who have opportunities to plug into more things. Obviously scheduling is the issue with that idea but it certainly is being explored.
A number of comments were made about VA services, ranging from the Veterans Choice Program to barriers accessing services and benefits. In our discussions with the hospital and regional office we learned that many of these issues are indeed being worked by subcommittees currently in place. What is not happening is the results of those subcommittees being communicated beyond the VA. With that realization, the directors of both the regional office and the hospital have committed to determine the results of these meetings and get the information out to the veteran community both through their own communications process and through MyVA Cascadia.
As some may know, there is a 30-bed facility in Salem that has been designated for veteran transitional housing. Unfortunately, there are no operating funds for this private facility because VA no longer funds transitional housing and instead has a “Housing First” model using HUD-VASH voucher. The need for transitional housing, however, has not necessarily gone away even if the funding has. The Board determined that we need to work with the group in Salem to find alternative means of providing operating funds for this potential shelter, including using other types of VA funding, private funding, and potential strategic partnerships. This issue will be more difficult to fix in that there is no dedicated funding for such a facility within the VA structure at this point.
To address these and other issues, the Board has put together subcommittees which are working on finding solutions to implement at the community level. We anticipate some issues taking weeks while others taking months to develop. However, the Board is committed to continuing its work building strong community partnerships to address all the issues discussed during the town hall.
That said, the Board is planning its second town hall in Bend, OR tentatively scheduled for May 9 at Central Oregon Community College. More information will be forthcoming as details are firmed up.