‘Drowning in a sea of goodwill’: Finding the right help is a challenge for veterans

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There’s help available for veterans needing jobs, a place to live or mental health services — but the challenge is finding out where to seek it out, veterans, local nonprofits and government officials said Thursday at a roundtable hosted by Sentara Healthcare.

“They’re drowning in a sea of goodwill,” Navy veteran John Malfitano, program manager for Onward to Opportunity Institute for Veterans and Military Families. “So many services but there’s no one place to go.”

Veterans feeling as if they are drowning in the community’s goodwill need something to grab on to, added Craig Quigley, executive director of the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance.

“I keep hearing the same three concerns: the quality of K-12 education, spouse employment and mental health services, these are three evergreen topics, and I would put mental health services right at the top,” Quigley said.

“There are serious, serious issues .... timely, quality mental health care is not always there.”

That’s a big part of what a $150,000 grant from Sentara to the Virginia Veterans Services Foundation, the gift that prompted Thursday’s roundtable, hopes to address.

It will go a long way to making up a gap from the pandemic and the shuttering of many of the foundation’s usual fundraising events, foundation chairman John Lesinski said. The foundation’s gifts in the past fiscal year slipped to $400,000 from $600,000 the previous year, he said.

The money will go to support programs of the state Department of Veterans Services, particularly those addressing homelessness and mental health issues — including suicide prevention.

Foundation funds, steered through the department, can help veterans who are facing eviction or utility cutoffs, or who need food but have no money or who can’t really wait for federal Veterans Administration mental health but have no funds to pay for other care, said Virginia’s acting Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Kathleen Jabs.

Help with other needs, from work for spouses to holding to finding civilian jobs after leaving the military is also available, roundtable participants said.

Amanda Slosson, of the Hampton Roads Workforce Council, said one key to help service members as they leave the military or are transferred to Hampton Roads is to make sure base commanders know the community has resources available, and to forge strong ties with the staff of the bases’ transition and family support services.

She said the group’s Norfolk veterans employment center can be a resource even for veterans long separated from the military.

The council plans a similar center on the Peninsula, with a soft opening set for next month, she said.

In the end, said Jabs, “we want to make Virginia the most military- and veteran-friendly state in the nation.”

Dave Ress, 757-247-4535, dress@dailypress.com

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