For many veterans returning home from war, settling back into civilian life is easier said than done. Thirty-two year-old former Marine infantryman, David Curry, found himself dropping out of college, running up credit card debt, and being utterly clueless about the Veterans Affairs' benefits available to him.
The state of California is home to more than 237,000 post-September 11th veterans like Curry, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet back home. To ease the transition, the Los Angeles-based Annenberg Foundation and Resnick Family Foundation have funded a pilot program for California veterans.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) is the largest nonprofit organization in the country focusing on the needs of post-September 11th veterans. The nonprofit got its start in New York City in 2012, later expanding to the rest of New York state and serving 1,100 former troops there. The California effort is a pilot program, and if it goes well, the program may gain the momentum it needs to expand on a national scale.
The Annenberg Foundation awarded a $100,000 grant for the pilot project in 2011 and another $75,000 in 2013 (Read Annenberg Foundation: Los Angeles Grants). Meanwhile, Los Angeles-based Resnick Foundation kicked in $400,000 for California's IAVA project (Read Resnick Foundation: Los Angeles Grants).
This is not your average crisis hotline. IAVA encourages veterans to call in, describe their problem, and a case manager will call them back within 24 hours to begin a working relationship. “We’re not going to recommend you somewhere, and you don’t hear from us again. We are going to stay in touch with you,” said Gerard Skiles, a Camp Pendleton Marine veteran and one of three case managers who handle calls from California. Case managers at IAVA advise veterans about financial challenges, succeeding in college, and steering clear of programs that target GI Bill benefits. But unlike other veteran assistance programs, IAVA doesn't offer job training, substance abuse counseling, or therapy.
Neither the Annenberg Foundation nor the Resnick Family Foundation focus their grantmaking on veteran affairs. Annenberg focuses on arts, environment, public health, and animal welfare. And Resnick focuses on education, health, and the arts. However, both foundations are fixated on improving the state of California, so these grants didn't come as a complete surprise. For instance, the Anneberg foundation, awarded 150 grants in California totaling $14.4 million in 2013, compared to just six grants in New York, three in Rhode Island, and a single grant in five other states. These are two funders who keep their eye out for causes that benefit the people of California, even if those causes don't totally align with their overall strategy.