Posted by StreetWise in Magazine Articles
Illinois Joining Forces has twice received national honors since it was launched 17 months ago to ensure that there is “no wrong door” for veterans who need help.Formed just before Veterans Day 2012 at the Union League Club of Chicago (ULCC), Illinois Joining Forces is a partnership of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA), the Illinois National Guard and 175 public, non-profit and volunteer entities that serve veterans across the state. It is the first time such a collaborative infrastructure has been set up statewide in the U.S., according to Erica J. Borggren, director of the IDVA.
In addition to in-kind support from the ULCC, Illinois Joining Forces has received assistance from the McCormick Foundation and the Tawani Foundation. The Pritzker Military Library hosts its website (www.IllinoisJoiningForces.org), which is key to linking veterans with potential resources – and avoiding unnecessary duplication of services, such as job fairs across the street from each other. People coming to the website immediately self-identify as vets or as providers of services that support former military personnel. These providers are divided into nine working groups: benefits and emergency assistance; homelessness and housing; employment and job training; families, children and survivors; behavioral health; financial literacy; education; legal support; and women veterans.
The website allows users to input their ZIP code or county. It also provides transparency regarding resources and procedures among the working groups, which have been meeting to close gaps in services, Borggren said in an April 4 letter on the website.
Because of its lead in creating the public-private Illinois Joining Forces, the IDVA received the Abraham Lincoln Pillars of Excellence Award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs in February. The title of the award comes from Lincoln’s second inaugural address, when he said it was the duty of government, “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.” The award also highlights state VAs’ mission to help assist former military personnel access federal VA care and benefits.
Borggren herself was honored by the White House March 25 as a Woman Veteran Champion of Change – one of 10 nation-wide– for her leadership in creating Illinois Joining Forces. A West Point graduate and a Rhodes Scholar, she served as a speechwriter for Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq and as a company commander in Korea.
“Serving our heroes is one of my top priorities and that’s why we’ve made Illinois the most veteran-friendly state in America,” Gov. Pat Quinn said in a prepared statement after the White House award. “Erica is a great example of what our veterans bring back to our communities when they leave the service.”
The role of the state has been simply “convening:” bringing together organizations and “in-kind” donations for IJF’s administrative, IT, printing, and other needs, Borggren said in the April 4 letter to Illinois Joining Forces members. “From the day we launched IJF in November 2012, we promised that the role of the state was small and that IJF would be a member-driven organization.”
The next step in its long-term sustainability, she wrote, is legislation in the Illinois General Assembly to create an Illinois Joining Forces Foundation, (IJFF) “a 501c3 which will ‘house’ Illinois Joining Forces while still ensuring the active involvement of the State.” SB3222 passed the Illinois Senate and has had a second reading in the Illinois House.
Borggren said in a telephone interview that in the final days before the Illinois General Assembly adjourns May 31, “I have every confidence it is an easy, smart vote for legislators and they are saying that to us. Everyone sees the value of what we are doing, moving to a legislatively based and missioned organization with a bit more flexibility.”
As defined by SB3222, IJF would be governed by a board of directors comprised of the director of IDVA and a senior designee of the Department of Military Affairs (DMA, or National Guard), as well as four members appointed by the four leaders of the General Assembly, and the entire IJF Executive Committee.
“Finally, the legislation defines the mission of IJFF as convening, collaborating, and capacity-building, thus constraining the mission-creep that might otherwise allow IJFF to become a competitor non-profit to…veteran-serving organizations,” Borggren said in her April 4 letter.
Turning IJF into a foundation provides leadership, she said, but also revenue.
“It’s long been an unfunded mission. For the last two years we’ve done it simply because everyone believed it was important and we’ve carved out lots of leadership time to make it happen and lots of in-kind support, but it’s not a funded state program. We’ve had lots of interested funders on the foundation and even the corporate side who really loved what we are doing, especially since it has been nationally awarded twice. But there is nobody to give that money to unless they are donating money to the state, so for long-term sustainability it makes sense to allow it to be a 501c3 as long as you can assure state involvement, as this bill does.”
The DVA and DMA cannot accept foundation and donated funds; state procurement rules also limit the ability to spend donated funds, she wrote April 4. Meanwhile, the IJFF will also provide for corporate and for-profit membership.
The IJFF will have an executive director who is not a political appointee, unlike the directors of the DVA and DMA. Other long-term employees of the foundation will be a web developer and working group support staff. A group from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Business School consulted in putting the IJFF plan forward.
Separate from IJF, Illinois was one of five states on the President’s Veterans’ Task Force charged with translating military skills for the civilian job force. Gov. Quinn issued an executive order, also about 17 months ago, that pushed IDVA to lead an interagency effort on “gap analysis,” Borggren said. The state agencies were told to define what veterans had learned in an actual military classroom and what more they needed to know to test for state licenses as certified nursing assistants, practical nurses, emergency medical technicians, physical therapy aides or commercial drivers.
“Thanks to all the groundwork with our sister agencies, we are now on track to announce a bridge program for veterans,” Borggren said. “You don’t have to do A through Z, just P through Z. And we have community college partners who are working with us on a cohort of veterans to do a bridge program on their campuses.”
Illinois expects over 35,000 veterans to come home from Iraq and Afghanistan between 2012 and 2017, Borggren said.
Just over half (54 percent) of these new veterans are in their 20s and younger with the remainder nearly evenly divided between those in their 30s (24 percent) and 40s (22 percent), according to New Veterans in Illinois: A Call to Action, published by the Social IMPACT Research Center at Heartland Alliance.
Ten percent of these new veterans have some college experience and 22 percent have bachelor’s or advanced degrees, but 67 percent have just a high school diploma or equivalency. However, their military occupations were largely in logistics, infantry, support, or medical departments: skills in demand by the civilian market.
Eighteen percent of new veterans are women, yet women comprise 23 percent of new veterans with incomes under $20,000 annually. Nearly half (47 percent) of female veterans with children are raising them alone, compared to only 25 percent of male veterans.
In 2010, Illinois had the 4th highest unemployment rate (13 percent) of all states for new veterans; 46 percent earn less than $30,000 annually.