Sunday, February 24, 2013

El Paso County Reaches Out to Veterans and Military Familes

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the 50th Anniversary of the The Retired Enlisted Association (TREA) dinner with my husband, Welling Clark. In addition to being presented with a challenge coin and a certificate of appreciation, I was able to share with those in attendance, the work we are doing in El Paso County and the Pikes Peak region to assist and support our military famlies and veterans. Here are just some of the efforts being made to offer the needed resources to our men and women in uniform who are serving and have served our country so admirably.

El Paso County is proud to be home to five military installations and we have many partnerships and programs in place to ensure that both our veterans and active duty members of the military (more than 75,000) are proud to call El Paso County home. Approximately 1/3 of our area's 640,000+ population is related to the military in some way.
The El Paso County Veteran's Services Office is the busiest and most productive County Veterans Services office in Colorado with more than 8,500 office visits in 2012.  It is a recognized leader in assisting residents of the State of Colorado who served honorably in any branch of the U.S. military as well as their families.  While the County Veteran's Services offices were established by Colorado State law, the Board of El Paso County Commissioners has a proven record of providing sufficient local funding (over $250,000/year) and staff support to keep this office among the top performing offices in the nation in terms of securing for local veterans and their families the benefits they have earned through military service.  In 2011 more than $350 million dollars was received by the veterans and dependents for disability and death payments.

The El Paso County Department of Human Services has a Child Support Program for members of the military. Through a federal grant child support staff works directly with Schriever and Peterson Air Force Bases, the Air Force Academy, and Fort Carson staff and service members to provide enhanced child support services to active duty service members and their families.  The El Paso County Department of Human Services (DHS) also created the Child Welfare Military Unit which is specifically focused on collaborating with our local military installations to protect children in military families by providing appropriate services for military families.  About 7-10% of the referrals DHS receives involve an active duty member of the military. Through the forged relationships and consistency in caseworkers, DHS is better able to serve these military families, our national heroes, with the focus of protecting children and keeping the families intact. The military has also been an extremely active and critical partner in the "Not One More Child Coalition and Initiative" which I started and co-chair with 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May, in coordination with the Department of Human Services. Our primary goal is a proactive approach to child abuse prevention with the goal of not seeing one more child in El Paso County die due to abuse or neglect. We have developed a multifaceted program and educational video through this initiative.  

The 4th Judicial District which covers both El Paso and Teller counties, created a Veterans Court, which provides an alternative to incarceration for U.S. military veterans with trauma spectrum disorders who have been charged with a lower level felony.  With the permission of the 4th Judicial District Attorney's office, eligible veterans are moved from the traditional courtroom environment into the Veterans Court. Program participants agree to actively engage in treatment and counseling, make regular court appearances, and are carefully supervised. Program staff assists participating veterans in accessing mental health and or substance abuse treatment, and connect them to educational, housing, and employment resources.

The Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) which encompasses El Paso, Teller and Park counties, continues to work with the region's military leadership and local jurisdictions to address the effects of such rapid growth on the surrounding community, including the development of the Fort Carson Regional Growth Plan, a comprehensive analysis of the broad range of impacts of ongoing growth and deployments and ensure quality of life in the region as Fort Carson’s population doubled over the last 7 years. Through PPACG, the region has the Network of Care for Service Members, Veterans and their Families.  This web site provides the military and veteran community with a one-stop source of information and referrals on a wide range of issues including housing, education, employment, and mental and physical health; traffic on this website has quadrupled since its launch in May 2011.  Following an assessment report that drilled down on the behavioral health, social services, employment and reintegration needs of active duty military, veterans and their families, PPACG, in partnership with the National Homeland Defense Foundation and many other entities in the region, established the Peak Military Care Network (PMCN) to provide an integrated system of care for military members, veterans, and their families. This coordinating effort ensures that all former and current members of the military and their families receive the highest standard of care for their behavioral health, social services and community integration needs.

  Partnerships between the El Paso County Commissioners, Sheriff and Fort Carson leadership were were thrilled to create the Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex which opened just last month. The Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex is a joint project between the U.S. Army, El Paso County, the El Paso County Sheriff and the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife.  The 400 acre site sits on Army land near Interstate 25 just off mile marker 132 and will be used as a training facility for our local law enforcement as well as a range for the public and military to enjoy.
The Pikes Peak Work Force Center administered through El Paso and Teller counties has six veteran employment specialists, all veterans themselves, on staff who assist veterans and transitioning service members in their job search. The Pikes Peak Work Force Center has trained more than 100 veterans over the last 12 months in high demand occupations through the federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA) programs, administered by the PPWFC.   The Pikes Peak Work Force Center delivers a federal job search workshop designed to educate veterans on special federal hiring authorities designed to make the hiring of veterans more attractive to federal agencies. Last year more than 6,000 veterans visited the PPWFC, and more than 5,000 were matched and referred to a job vacancy.   The Pikes Peak Work Force Center sponsors an annual “Hire Vets First” job fair every November around the Veterans Day holiday. The Pikes Peak Work Force Center collaborates with the military base transition offices at our local military bases, assisting our service members in their transition to the civilian workforce. The Pikes Peak Work Force Center regularly visits the Crawford House Homeless Veterans Shelter and provides employment assistance to our community’s homeless veterans.The Pikes Peak Work Force Center connects veterans with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, often through the El Paso County Veteran Service Office, so veterans can apply for health, education and disability benefits they may not be aware of but are entitled to receive.  

These are just some of the efforts we, as a region, do to reach out to our military, veterans and service member families. We will continue to serve those who protect our freedoms each and everyday.

*Commissioner Clark also serves on the National Association of Counties (NACo) Veterans and Military Services Committee and is a military wife of Navy veteran, Welling Clark.