Editor’s Note: This story is part of Shaw Local News Network’s Thank You, Veterans project honoring military veterans throughout northern Illinois.
Just in time for Veterans Day, Illinois Joining Forces is launching an effort to connect veterans with services they may need.
The effort is called Operation Connect a Vet.
People are asked to contact IJF through the end of the year to request a wellness check – either a single check-in or on an ongoing basis – for a veteran, service member or member of their family.
The wellness checks will be made by veterans who help fellow veterans for a living. One is Michael Pedroza, a U.S. Navy veteran who served from 1989 to 1993. He’s a veteran care coordinator specialist for IJF.
“Veterans we’ll be calling doesn’t necessarily have to be experiencing a crisis,” Pedroza said. “At the very least, we want to let them know there’s someone to talk to, another veteran, and they’re not alone.”
Most calls Pedroza takes from veterans do uncover a crisis. And that crisis is usually financial, he said.
A recent report by the United States Department of Agriculture noted that 11% of working-age veterans live in a food-insecure household.
There are a multitude of financial problems veterans face, Pedroza said.
“Rent. Mortgage. Life issues, like deciding between fixing a broken-down vehicle or getting meds,” he said. “We’re not going to give veterans a hand out, but a hand up. We want to meet their needs using a holistic approach.”
Veterans’ financial issues often are caused by the difficulties of resuming civilian life after serving in the military, Pedroza said.
There could be a job loss because of a breakdown, episodes, survivor’s guilt or invisible injuries, he said.
Veterans are often reticent about asking for help, Pedroza said.
“That’s because of the military culture,” he said. “You learn to be self-sufficient, to improvise, to adapt to overcome whatever problem you’re facing. Veterans are just too humble to reach out.
“I tell them I want to work with them to get them and their family, if they have one, in a better place,” he said. “Once that self-sufficient roadblock comes down, they usually can’t thank me enough.”
In addition to providing help with finances, Pedroza can guide veterans and their families to find help with housing, food, employment, health care and other needs.
Illinois Joining Forces is a nonprofit organization launched in 2012 through an agreement between the Illinois Departments of Veterans’ Affairs and Military Affairs.
It’s a statewide public/private network of military and veterans-serving organizations that work together to improve services for veterans, service members, and their families.
According to its website, IJF helps veterans, service members and their families navigate the “sea of goodwill” to find the support they need when they need it.
“No one organization can do it all, but veterans shouldn’t have to wander from office to office – or website to website – to determine who does what and (who) can best meet their needs,” the IJF website statement reads.
To Connect a Vet
Requests can be made calling the IJF Care Coordination Center at 833-463-6453, sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or filling out Connect a Vet form on the IJF website, illinoisjoiningforces.org.