A Vermont National Guard outreach effort will receive $1.8 million this year for the pioneering program that informs veterans and their families about benefits they have earned, Vermont's congressional delegation announced today.
The award is Vermont's share of $20 million for eight states that have adopted the Vermont outreach program model and a new effort to expand the program to National Guard and Reserve units nationwide.
The Vermont program was launched in 2006 with funds secured by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who now chairs the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs. "In a rural state like ours, soldiers coming home can be isolated. What we did was put together a team of veterans to go out and visit people in their homes to talk to them and help them get the services that are available to them. I am proud that the Vermont outreach program has become a model for the nation," Sanders said.
"This program is vital for Guard and Reserve troops in Vermont and elsewhere who come home to civilian life, not to a federal military mega-base," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). "I will continue working with Senator Sanders and Congressman Welch to see that this program is put on a permanent track and that other states learn from the outstanding performance of Vermont's veteran outreach team." As the most senior member of the appropriations panel that funds Defense Department programs and co-chair of the Senate National Guard Caucus, Leahy helped secure the funds for the Vermont program and has championed its expansion to other state Guard organizations.
"Today's announcement highlights the groundbreaking work of the Vermont National Guard Outreach Program to ease the transition to civilian life for those Vermonters who have served our country. I will continue to build bi-partisan support in the House to sustain this critical program and to use it as a model to help service members and veterans around the country," said Rep. Peter Welch. He introduced bipartisan legislation in the House to expand Vermont's program to other states.
Since it began, the Vermont National Guard outreach program has provided services to 4,300 veterans and helped enroll approximately 7,000 veterans in the VA benefits program.
It relies on a team of 10 combat veterans who themselves have adjusted to life at home after fighting overseas. The veterans go to the homes of service members who have recently returned from deployment to provide help filing for disability benefits and provide information about health care, mental health services, employment counseling and financial assistance.
The program has expanded in recent years to help veterans from conflicts beyond Iraq and Afghanistan. "We are the ones going to the veterans' homes and working with them to find what they really need," Andre Wing the Vermont team leader, told members of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee in testimony last March 20.