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April 13, 2020

Veteran services are critical during the COVID-19 crisis

An Army veteran – and a Penn Medicine social worker – explains how local organizations are taking action

Opinion Veterans
Coronavirus COVID-19 Veterans Services Anthony Behar/Sipa USA

A member of the Army National Guard stands outside the Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center in New York City, where a makeshift hospital has been set up to treat patients with COVID-19.

Veterans are one of the most resilient segments of our society. Only about 1% of our country is currently serving, and those who choose to serve shoulder the burden of responding to significant threats to our communities and the entire country. Some people decide to enter the service on active duty, while others choose the Reserves or National Guard. All are important to our collective health and safety — especially during a crisis.

As of April 3, 11 states have mobilized nearly 20,000 Guard troops in response to COVID-19, and coronavirus-related deaths nationwide are in the thousands. We depend on the resiliency and strength of those that serve, but we do not always catch veterans and service members when the systems designed to support them fall short.

Despite their resiliency, this public health crisis will adversely affect veterans and their families unless leaders in the veterans services space organize and take action. Whether or not veterans and their families can still access critical in-person services is unclear, and guidance from local, state and federal entities changes almost daily. In addition, there is no central repository of reliable information on resources and services for veterans; this was already a significant challenge prior to COVID-19.

Long before COVID-19 hit the area, the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs began developing a web-based system to fill this gap, VETCONNECT. VETCONNECT could have a massive impact on how service providers coalesce around a major problem like this in the future. Veterans and their families deserve no less. Now is the time for our community to combine efforts to push this important system over the finish line so that veterans can efficiently find the resources and services they need.

In the meantime, organizations such as The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic and our partner Vets4 Warriors, are taking action to support veterans and their families during this trying time via the use of telehealth and 24-hour peer-to-peer phone support. The Veterans Multi-Service Center, a community partner providing direct case management support, is working tirelessly to help veterans with some of their most basic needs like housing and employment.

Many veterans and their families are facing challenges such as a loss of income or being asked to coordinate their children’s’ education overnight. Organizations like PA Wounded Warriors, the PenFed Foundation and others are working to assist eligible veterans who are in financial distress. National Military Family Association is constantly pushing out resources for parents with schoolchildren.

In this unprecedented time, organizations like the ones listed above are finding innovative ways to face this challenge and continue to serve the veteran community. Many are hosting virtual events to answer questions and provide access to much-needed resources. On Monday, nine veteran and military-focused organizations in the Philadelphia area came together for a virtual town hall, including the Cohen Clinic at Penn, Travis Manion Foundation, FourBlock, and representatives from the VA, PADMVA, and the City of Philadelphia. The virtual town hall featured up-to-the-minute updates on veterans services, along with the panelists answering audience questions submitted in advance. To find out more about the event, visit: https://bit.ly/PHLvets-covid19.

Let’s face it, COVID-19 has changed the way we all function in our daily lives. However, it is important for veterans facing these challenges to know there are organizations and resources that can help. At a time like this, it truly does take a village.


Pete Freudenberger is a U.S. Army veteran and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). He serves as Outreach Manager at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania.

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