By Jim Knotts
President and CEO, Operation Homefront
Times are tense. Much has been said lately in regards to how the Department of Defense will balance its books, following more than 12 years of war.
How does the DoD maintain the world’s finest fighting force, with the right investment in people and associated benefits, while equipping them with superior technology to win decisively on the battlefield?
I don’t envy the difficult choices required by our military leaders and elected officials, as the threats to our security remain real and uncertain – all at the same time. Amidst the back drop and threat of sequestration, their challenge is all the more difficult.
At no point in our nation’s history have we been on a war footing for any longer period of time, nor has that war been fought by a smaller percentage of the population. How we effectively communicate the stories and needs of this valiant 1%, to the other 99%, will prove critical for how successful we are in caring for this current generation of patriots and their families. And there is much work ahead of us.
More than 2 million service members have deployed since 9/11. Now is not the time to turn away from the emergency needs and longer term support of this community – both active duty and veterans – that we see daily at Operation Homefront. And, it might seem that fewer deployments and a corresponding drop in combat-related injuries would reduce the need for the types of services we provide.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the needs of those we serve are greater than ever.
In 2013, we provided more than $4 million in assistance for some of the most basic needs – food, rent and utilities. That was a 263% increase over the year before. And while we typically support active duty military families dealing with the associated challenges of deployments and frequent relocations, our assistance numbers show an increasing percentage of the post 9/11 veteran population needing our help as well. In fact, last year, more than 80% of our emergency assistance grants were made to wounded, ill and injured.
But we need to do more. And we need to focus more on not only helping military families get through a crisis but helping them avoid one in the first place. In 2014, we’re shifting our focus from intervention to transformation.
Anywhere from half a million to a million service members could leave the military over the next five years. We know that the mix of programs and services we offer will continue to evolve with that growing population. And we’ve anticipated and planned for this shift.
For example, in 2012, thanks to generous bank partners JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo and Bank of America, we began our Homes on the Homefront program, providing mortgage-free homes to qualifying veterans and military families, of any era. In the first full year of the program, last year, we placed 188 families in homes, helping them save more than $41 million in mortgage payments over an average 30-year loan. Home ownership – an essential part of the American Dream – is something our nation’s veterans and their families have earned through their service, affording a transformative generational impact for decades to come.
We also work closely through collaborations with other nonprofits focused on improving the lives of our military families. We know that many crisis situations may be preventable through better financial education. So just a few weeks ago, we entered into a partnership with the Better Business Bureau’s Military Line, working together to extend resources to the mutual client families we serve with financial planning and budgeting resources.
As we look ahead through the balance of this year and beyond, we know that the nonprofits who support the military and veteran communities will confront similar significant issues as those faced by our government leaders. The nonprofits who endure will be those who seize the opportunity to adapt to the evolving needs of our military families and veterans. Those who succeed will do so by transforming lives, measuring the results and being agile enough to adapt as needs change.