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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.

infographic-operation-homefront-military-family-impact

While we expanded our reach, and hired more staff to address critical program needs last year, we also achieved an overall 93% efficiency, holding a three-year average of 94%. This means that for every dollar we receive from our generous donors and partners, 94 cents goes directly to the programs and services we provide. (Click on infographic for full size version.)

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.

kenneth-walker-operation-homefront

Wounded warrior Kenneth Walker said he heard about Operation Homefront when he only had $40 left in his pocket. He moved into our wounded warrior village and lived rent-free while he got back on his feet. He just settled into a new home with his wife and children.

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.

Jim Knotts

Jim Knotts
President and CEO
Operation Homefront

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.

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By Jim Knotts, CEO of Operation Homefront

By December, defense officials estimate the number of U.S. troops left in Iraq, if any at all, will amount to less than 5,000. At the height of the war, in 2006 and 2007, the U.S. had between 130,000 to 172,000 men and women fighting there.

By summer 2012, the total number of deployed troops in the Mideast will drop from 150,000 to 70,000.

Cue the ticker tape parades and kissing couples in Times Square, right?

Wrong.

After almost ten years of fighting, America’s soldiers, and their families, are exhausted. The military’s expansive manpower needs have meant that active duty as well as Reserve and National Guard forces have served overseas, often, more than once.

An astonishing 2.3 million servicemembers have deployed since Sept. 11, 2001. Roughly 1 million of those people have deployed twice, three and even four times.

As the battles waged, there was a groundswell of support for the soldiers and their families from local communities. Nonprofits were formed overnight to provide everything from baby showers for Army wives left home alone to summer camps for teenage military kids.

The military too increased its efforts to support families. New programs were created and individuals were hired specifically to organize family support groups within individual units. Money, millions of dollars worth, was spent to help stabilize these families during very rough times.

Now, the troops are headed home. It would be easy for outsiders, especially those who have never endured a wartime deployment, to believe that all is happy and good for those families.

Unfortunately that may not be the case.

During those years of war, many military children grew up seeing their servicemember parent for only a few months each year. Thousands of other children had a parent killed in action. Thousands more now live with a parent who is severely disabled due to their wartime injuries.

Mental health experts are still grappling with the long-term effects of deployment on military children. From 2003 to 2008 the number of outpatient mental health visits for children of active duty parents doubled from one million to two million. During the same time period, the number of days military children spent in psychiatric care centers increased as well.

Reports of child abuse, domestic abuse, alcoholism and drug abuse among troops also grew with each passing year. Military couples continue to post increasing divorce rates as the strain of repeated deployments grows heavier.

The war may almost be over, but the battle at home has just begun.

America’s warriors are now facing an uncertain future. Their bodies are broken. Their families have suffered. By year’s end, their jobs may be gone as well.

Federal budget cuts have already lopped $465 billion from the defense budget.

Additional cuts, which members of the House Armed Services Committee estimate could be as much as $500 billion, would mean 200,000 Marines and soldiers would lose their jobs.

In an economy already struggling to employ every American searching for a job, these men and women may have an even tougher search. The current unemployment rate for young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is 22 percent. For veterans combined, young and old, it’s 11 percent. Compare this to the national rate of 9 percent.

Wounded veterans face an unemployment rate of 41 percent.

Ships would not be built. Fighters would not fly. Troops would be asked to perform more missions with less people and more time away from home.

In military homes, the cuts could cause significant hardships as well. Lawmakers opposing the budget slashes suggest that military families living overseas could be asked to pay tuition for their children to attend on-post schools, as much as $2,850 per child.

Commissary savings would be reduced if not decimated completely. Spouses would receive less tuition assistance. Over $300 million in morale, welfare and recreation programs at bases around the world will disappear.

The changes ahead for our nation and its military leave Operation Homefront left to consider how our mission will change as well.

Historically, our role has been to assist the families of deployed service members. As those missions come to a close, we must re-evaluate the needs of these families now and how we can best serve them.

Part of this decision means evaluating not just our resources, but those of the nation.

As communities see more of their warriors returning, and staying home, will they lose their drive to rally around military families? It is easy to assume that military homecomings mean a happy ending. As the statistics above suggest, that is not always the case.

As budgets are slashed, and on-base resources are eliminated, will military families increasingly begin searching for help off base? Will those resources be gone as well?

After almost ten years of great personal sacrifice, America’s warriors, and their families, are being asked to give even more.

Americans everywhere need to consider not just the cost of the military in dollars. They need to weigh the years of hardship, separation and dedication given by the families who served and how sweeping budget cuts will leave many of them not just jobless but broken and destitute.

The war may almost be over but the fight has just begun. Continue to step up America. Your defenders need you now, possibly more than ever.

(Photo, left to right: Jim Knotts, CEO of Operation Homefront and Carlos Evans, a resident at one of our Operation Homefront Villages for wounded warriors, meet up at our Annual Reception.)

Sources:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-puts-iraq-withdrawal-plans-under-wraps-to-discourage-attacks/2011/10/13/gIQAGw4LiL_story.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/24/AR2010052403842.html

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/sep/29/report-budget-cuts-would-leave-military-hollow/?page=all

http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_938.html

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/28/divorce-rate-in-military-continues-upward-trend/

http://armedservices.house.gov/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=052aad71-19cb-4fbe-a1b5-389689d542d7

http://www.navytimes.com/news/2011/10/military-gop-lawmakers-dig-in-against-defense-cuts-101011w/

http://forbes.house.gov/StrongAmerica/

http://battleland.blogs.time.com/2011/08/01/more-young-veterans-jobless/

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Our combat mission in Iraq may technically be over, but our service members continue to deploy. That means our families are still facing long separations during a difficult economy. Today Operation Homefront CEO Jim Knotts spoke with multiple radio stations about how the families we support still need us, and how we all can help.

Here’s Jim’s interview with WRVA in Richmond.

Jim Knotts on WRVA Richmond 09-01-2010

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I think even celebrity guest Wendy Davis from Lifetime’s “Army Wives” was upstaged today. But I doubt she cared.

Wendy Davis of "Army Wives" presents the Military Motherhood Award to Robin Schoolfiled as OH CEO Jim Knotts looks on.

I imagine she was just as thrilled as everyone else when Maj. Sam Schoolfield, husband of Military Motherhood Award winner Robin Schoolfield, showed up at the luncheon in his wife’s honor. Sam is deployed to Afghanistan, and Robin had no clue he’d be there. They’ll get to enjoy some family time in the nation’s capital before Sam returns to duty.

Today Robin was recognized for her strength and perseverance as a Marine Corps wife. Thanks to Lockheed Martin, Operation Homefront was able to get her family to D.C. and present her with a check for $5,000. Thanks to TriWest, we were able to host a lovely luncheon. Thanks to Lifetime, we had an exceptional guest speaker.

And thanks to Sam’s command and all the folks who worked with us to get him there today, the Schoolfield family had a priceless reunion.

Maj. Sam Schoolfield, who is deployed to Afghanistan, surprised his wife Robin by showing up at the Military Motherhood Award luncheon.

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