Run and Revolutionize Veteran Services

John William Kayse.

John William Kayse.

Your Voice Contributor

Louisville native John William Kayse joined the Army at 17 and was soon serving in Vietnam. Even today, he continues to struggle with emotions and bad memories of those years.

After four years in the Army, John worked at the former Phillip Morris cigarette plant and during the 1970s began “drinking and drugging.” He tried a series of treatment programs, but relapsed every time.

His counselor at the VA encouraged him to try again and recommended Volunteers of America. This time John said he was truly ready for a change. “This is a good program,” he says. “I have been to many others, but this one is different. They are teaching us to be responsible not just for our lives, but for our actions. They are teaching me how to live.”

Christina Julian.

Christina Julian.

John is an honorable citizen facing issues that are too common in society. As we begin the conversation about the needs of our local veterans, it is important to remember that every veteran is a unique human being. Many of our nation’s soldiers are able to adjust to the civilian world quickly, using their various skills to establish successful, thriving lives at home. A fraction of veterans struggle to overcome a wide range of obstacles. Awareness and sensitivity are integral to understanding veteran services and making positive change.

More than 50,000 veterans live in Jefferson County, and over 20,000 more post-9/11 veterans are expected to return to Kentucky by 2020. As suicide rates, addiction, homelessness and unemployment have grown among our veterans, there is an urgent community need, and it is time to take action.

Volunteers of America of Kentucky and Seven Counties Services have partnered with a team from Leadership Louisville Center’s Ignite Louisville program to develop a solution: a community-wide collaborative initiative to coordinate veteran services and ensure a seamless system of care in Louisville. You can help by registering to “Run with Our Heroes” at this year’s Kentucky Derby Festival.

When veterans return from service, they can face a wide range of challenges. These might include finding employment, getting access to healthcare and benefits, coping with physical disabilities or psychological impairment and realizing housing stability. Post-9/11 veterans present unique circumstances related to long, repeated deployments and the changing demographics of soldiers. Communities are being urged to look at the issues facing veterans and their families locally and take a greater role in military reintegration.

Many organizations are dedicated to helping veterans overcome these obstacles. In fact, there are over 400,000 websites for organizations that support the men and women who serve in the military. The resources to help our veterans are out there, but the difficulty in navigating the network of providers and matching services to veterans in need is overwhelming.

All providers of veterans’ services—from healthcare to criminal justice, education and employment—must work together to provide an efficient route to specific, quality behavioral healthcare. Coordination between the variety of social services, VA services and other systems involved in veterans’ lives has the potential to expose critically important gaps in service, while simultaneously enhancing delivery of care.

Looking beyond service providers, it is the responsibility of the general population to make Louisville a veteran-friendly destination. Community relations have a tremendous impact on quality of life. We are all accountable for our own education and understanding of reintegration. We have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of veterans and their families, people who have made unlimited sacrifices to uphold the founding principles of our country. We need a solution that will allow all veterans access to the self-evident truths we often take for granted.

Want to join our cause? Whether you are a runner, a walker, or part of our support-scream team, register to “Run with Our Heroes” at the 2014 Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon or miniMarathon. To join our team, sign up at www.active.com/donate/sevencounties. If you plan on running or walking, make sure you also register at derbyfestivalmarathon.com/registration and select Seven Counties Services as your charity. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/scsrunwithourheroes or call 502.589.8600.

Christina Julian is a member of Leadership Louisville Center’s Ignite Louisville Class of 2014. Her team is currently working with Volunteers of America of Kentucky and Seven County Services to develop a strategic plan that will revolutionize veteran services in Louisville. Christina works at JPMorgan Chase in Commercial Banking Treasury Services.