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Victor Bohm | November 18, 2020

READ: IAVA CEO Jeremy Butler Comments on How VSOs Can Help Veterans Navigate Life After Service

Transitioning to civilian life can be difficult. Feelings of loneliness and isolation are common among veterans who are dealing with unique challenges, some of which are rarely discussed, and not effectively addressed. The serious health effects from exposure to toxic burn pits is one of them.

Beginning in 2001, military waste, including plastics, medical waste, and metals, were burned in open-air pits on bases and near barracks. There are no perfectly accurate figures, but estimates place the number of veterans exposed during their service at ​3.5 million​. 

Exposure to toxic chemicals in the air has led to respiratory diseases, and even rare and fatal cancers in veterans who were exposed. Astonishingly, the VA still ​says​ there is no long-term proof of illnesses associated with burn pits.

In addition, mental health challenges continue to have serious impacts on the veteran population. The latest Iraq and Afghanistan Vetarans of America (IAVA) membership survey found that 62 percent of veterans knew a fellow veteran who committed suicide — a 22 percent increase since 2014.

The COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated the impacts from these invisible wounds of war by compounding other issues that disproportionately impact the veteran community, such as unemployment and homelessness. Unemployment in the post-9/11 generation of veterans is over 7 percent, up from just under 4 percent at the end of 2019. This has significantly impacted housing security, leading to an increase in evictions and overall well-being and stability.

Finding relief

With COVID-19 showing little sign of slowing down, government institutions bogged down by bureaucracy, and the countless roadblocks veterans sometimes face, finding meaningful help can seem impossible. Luckily, dedicated Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) are answering that call. Among them is IAVA, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of post-9/11 veterans. 

This year, IAVA launched the ​Quick Reaction Force​ (QRF), a consolidated-care referral program tailored to the specific needs of veterans. ​QRF provides free and confidential 24/7 peer support, remote care management, and connections to quality resources regarding healthcare, financial assistance, employment, housing and homelessness, and more, for all veterans and their family members. 

Someone who understands

Whether a veteran ​needs assistance navigating VA benefits, accessing mental healthcare, finding stable housing, seeking employment, they are connected with the best resources to fit their needs through QRF. What sets this program apart is the focus on long-term care, with a check-in and reporting framework in place to ensure veterans are achieving meaningful change.

IAVA’s QRF is staffed by veterans who uniquely understand the challenges our community faces, and is available for all veterans and family members, regardless of era or discharge status. 

QRF can be reached 24/7/365 by calling 855-91RAPID (855-917-2743). Alternatively, the program can be reached by filling out a brief intake at ​quickreactionforce.org​ to receive a call or email back within one day. 

Veterans have sacrificed for our country, and it’s important they have access to programs like QRF that truly meet their needs and ensure pathways to stable futures for the long-term.

This piece originally ran in the Mediaplanet publication on November 11, 2020.

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