Monday, January 7th, 2013
Writing for the New York Times “At War” blog, James Dao takes a look at a new program in New York City that helps veterans and their families navigate the complex web of federal assistance programs. The Single Stop Veterans Initiative is an off-shoot of Single Stop USA, which has provided counseling to the city’s poor for more than a decade.
Last year, the folks at Single Stop and the Robin Hood Foundation, which has financed it, began thinking about whether their model could be used to help veterans reintegrate into civilian life. Was there any more daunting or confounding system of benefit programs than those provided by the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs? Probably not.
And so last fall, the Single Stop Veterans Initiative was born. The effort is a collaboration by three groups. Robin Hood, which has raised $14 million for veterans programs over the past two years, finances it. The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that places recent veterans in community service fellowships, provides veteran counselors. And Single Stop trains and manages those fellows, equipping them with binders and computers loaded with information about veterans programs.
There are Single Stop veteran counselors at the Mid-Manhattan Library — the largest branch in the New York Public Library system — and in five other locations around the city. (A seventh location has a nonveteran counselor.) A list of the locations can be found here.
A visit to the Mid-Manhattan Library on Fifth Avenue provided a look at how the program works.
In an office on the third floor, just behind stacks of art books, a Mission Continues fellow named Christopher Neff shares space with other Single Stop counselors. A Marine Corps veteran of two tours in Iraq, Mr. Neff uses Single Stop’s proprietary computer system to help calculate whether clients are eligible for 40 different government and private programs for civilians. The system even helps clients apply for some of those programs.
The Department of Veterans Affairs, perhaps not surprisingly, is not quite as user-friendly, and it does not allow Single Stop counselors to submit applications for veterans online. But Mr. Neff has a thick binder of eligibility rules so he can advise veterans about which federal programs they might qualify for.
It is the kind of work that traditional veterans services organizations, such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, have long specialized in. But not all veterans, particularly younger ones, are familiar with those groups. Chances are that some of those people occasionally wander into the Mid-Manhattan Library looking for help. [...]
Theresa Myrhol, chief librarian for Mid-Manhattan, said that the library, which gets about 5,000 customers a day, had always been a magnet for people researching the complex maze of government aid programs. “Libraries are safe places,” she said. “But we didn’t have much knowledge about veterans issues.”
Now, they do.