Network Works to Ensure Former Warriors Can Fit Back In

October 2, 2011
Everett Herald

EVERETT, Wash. – Military service took them to Europe or the Pacific during World War II. It took them to Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. Snohomish County is home to about 60,000 veterans.

"Of those, 3,000 are indigent or low-income," said Cammy Hart-Anderson, a division manager of chemical dependency, mental health and veterans services with the county's Human Services Department.

"A number of veterans clearly need mental health services," said Ken Stark, Human Services Department director. "A number need alcohol and drug services or are indigent. They have barriers to employment. Many are homeless or at risk of homelessness."

Some simply want to talk with other veterans. Or they need help understanding benefits.

Veterans in Snohomish County now have a comprehensive website to help them find local, state and federal information about benefits, counseling, housing, employment and other needs.

The county's new Network of Care for Service Members, Veterans & Their Families http://snohomish.wa.networkofcare.org/Veterans was unveiled Monday.

"We're the first county in the state to have it," said Snohomish County Councilman John Koster, who first learned about similar one-stop information sites through his work with the National Association of Counties. Koster, president of the Washington Association of Counties, is a board member of the national group.

The new local site was created by Trilogy Integrated Resources, Inc., a California company that has worked with other local and state governments to establish interactive, community-based websites.

Through the National Association of Counties, Koster met Bruce Bronzan, co-founder and president of Triology. Koster said Bronzan, a former state lawmaker in California who served as associate dean of the medical school at University of California San Francisco, shared with him how the sites are working in other states.

Network of Care programs now operate in counties in Oregon, California, Colorado, Texas and Maryland.

"We are blessed with a great military presence in our state and county," Koster said Wednesday. "There are programs for veterans at the federal and state level, and many nonprofits. Now people can get it all in one place, and see what's there for veterans, active military and their families."

Stark said the Network of Care site will cost about $35,000 a year. "Essentially we used a small amount of state funding combined with some sales tax," he said.

Nationally, Stark said, some governments have Network of Care sites for other groups, including seniors. He hopes other counties in Washington will buy into the program so costs can be shared.

Hart-Anderson said that for younger veterans, a social networking capability on the site should be a big plus. "They can talk to other veterans," she said. "That's nice because our younger veterans are not going to the VFW."

Stark said it often takes a few years after veterans have left the military for them to seek services. "We're going to increasingly see newer veterans coming in over the next couple years," he said.

"I'm happy about it," Steve Akers said about the site. Akers spent many years as a contract therapist with the state Department of Veterans Affairs, counseling veterans at his Everett office. He is retired, but his wife, Laurie Akers, continues that work.

Steve Akers began working with veterans in 1980 at the Vet Center in Spokane. He has seen after-effects of military service through the decades.

He believes younger veterans who won't come for face-to-face help will reach out for information online.

"Most people are like that -- I'm back home, I've got living to do. You just keep going, get that job, and school and marriage. Soldiers with trauma tend to isolate and be off by themselves," Akers said. "This is an opportunity to open the door, get counseling, find out all the resources, and talk to their buddies.

"These young people are incredibly dedicated human beings. When they come back, they want to fit in," Akers said.

Stark said most veterans aren't going to search multiple websites and make calls and office visits. "This way it's all centralized, a single portal," he said.

"I can't say we're going to provide one service to veterans and make them whole," Stark said. "What the Network of Care is, it's very, very useful. It's an incredibly effective tool. It just makes a lot of sense."