The Veterans One Stop is creating a new coalition aimed at uniting agencies and organizations that provide services to veterans.
The new group, called the Veterans One Stop Community Coalition, held its first brainstorming meeting Thursday. The goal is to build a stronger communication network between the different entities to help veterans receive emergency aid and mental health care assistance more quickly.
“We want to get a good collective education of what everyone’s services are, and we want to cross-pollinate with each other, but the main thing we want to keep in mind is a veteran focus,” said Steve Hernandez, McLennan County’s veteran services officer and one of the lead partners for both One Stop groups.
“We all do such broad-based community service activities, but we want to be able to make sure we get away from that broad (view) and focus on veterans.”
The coalition is a collaboration between the Veterans One Stop, Heart of Texas Region Mental Health and Mental Retardation, and McLennan County.
This isn’t the first local attempt at rallying veterans groups. The One Stop itself was formed as a result of a Vets Connect coalition that began in 2011.
But Vets Connect, which had different leadership, became inactive within a year.
Hernandez said the new coalition will take on building a directory of contact information for all the veterans service providers, something Vets Connect attempted but did not complete. The directory will be available in some format to the general public, which Hernandez said may help veterans who opt to search for assistance on their own instead of coming through the One Stop.
Hernandez said the 18-month-old One Stop has helped improve communication between the different veteran-focused groups in the Waco area. In addition to MHMR staff, groups like Texas Veterans Commission, the America GI Forum and Heart of Texas Workforce Solutions have regular hours at the facility each month to service veterans.
But the One Stop has become inundated with calls and inquiries from veterans needing immediate emergency assistance, such as housing, food, transportation to work, school or a doctor’s appointment at the Waco VA hospital.
The higher call volume can make it challenging to respond promptly to every veteran’s needs, Hernandez said. Also, some of the agencies affiliated with the One Stop may have capacity limits in being able to assist veterans.
“We do have real-time needs, a lot of times where people come in and they have something right then and there that has to be taken care of,” Hernandez said. “You can always plan for the future, but it’s very difficult to accommodate and give someone a positive experience when they’re in a real crisis . . . and we don’t have the resources or don’t know for sure who to call.”
Ray Muniz, the director of the Veterans One Stop, said a strong network of service providers will enhance the quality of life for veterans at various career stages — from active-duty, to those who recently have exited the military, to older veterans.
The group also will be able to more effectively reach out to veterans’ family members, who also face different challenges living with a veteran.
“Sometimes it gets real tough. There are different feelings that you go through that you don’t encounter in every profession,” said Muniz, a retired Army veteran who leads MHMR’s veterans services programs.
“I’m not saying this population is unique, but, by God, they’re special. . . . Through this coalition, we hope to address a number of issues that are important to the community and issues that are important to the veteran population.”
Thursday’s meeting also was attended by representatives from the city of Waco, Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center, Baylor University, the Waco Veteran Affairs Medical Center and U.S. Rep. Bill Flores’ Waco field office.
Teri Holtkamp, Waco’s homelessness administrator, said she hopes the coalition will help the city fulfill a pledge to eliminate veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.
Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. was one of three Texas mayors to sign that pledge two months ago, and the city plans to tackle it through an initiative that unites efforts to address poverty and improve education.
“It is not something where one person does it all,” Holtkamp said. “Coalitions are very important so that we can keep this synergy going and that we do find out who is doing what.”
Retired Brig. Gen. George Brinegar, who owns a home health care business that caters to veterans, said helping veterans successfully re-integrate into civilian life will require addressing a broad spectrum of issues, from housing and employment to education and health care.
“We might not see the results today and we might not see the results until the 22nd century, but at that point people will realize and see the way we re-integrated our veterans, and that will certainly be either our high-water mark for our nation or it will be something much, much worse,” Brinegar said.