A Jackson County task force is asking county officials to step up efforts to help veterans, and the county executive says those recommendations appear to be manageable.
“The most important things that face veterans are jobs and housing,” Art Fillmore told county legislators this week. Fillmore, the co-founder of the Heart of America Stand Down Foundation, chaired a task force that County Executive Mike Sanders appointed last year.
Among its recommendations is that the county adopt a veterans preference in hiring. Others include broader parks-and-recreation services for veterans, including therapeutic recreation; putting a link to veterans services on the county’s website; and making more veterans services available through 211, a United Way program through which residents can get information on a wide variety of programs.
The group also suggests that the county work with the Missouri Veterans Commission or other groups for more veterans services officers, who connect veterans with helpful programs.
“We heard over and over that veterans do not know where to go for services,” the task force report says.
Heart of America Stand Down says hundreds of homeless vets live in the metro area. It says veterans are far more likely than the average American to end up homeless, and it says 87 percent of homeless veterans have substance abuse or mental-health problems.
Fillmore added that unemployment among veterans tends to be about 10 percent higher than among the population as a whole.
“I think that’s shameful,” he said.
Fillmore did point to successes such as the Veterans Court that Jackson County implement three years ago.
“Veterans Court has been a huge success,” he said.
It’s a diversion program for veterans charged with crimes. If they complete the yearlong program, the charges are expunged from the veteran’s record. Most who are let in make it, he said.
“An 80 percent graduation rate is really phenomenal,” he said.
Sanders mentioned that veterans who find needed services to fully reconnect with society often turn around to help fellow veterans with that same need.
“And that’s a story that’s reported year after year,” he said.
Fillmore added that communicating the availability of services is crucial.
“There’s a tremendous network among the population,” he said. “They talk to each other.”