The Pikes Peak region has plenty of generosity to help troops and veterans in need, but a lack of coordination makes the help hard to find, leaders said last week.
Finding easy ways to navigate those services was a cause that drew dozens of Pikes Peak region nonprofit leaders to a gathering where they pledged to work on ways to better coordinate their services. They'll have help from the Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families, which is pitting professorial brainpower against the intractable problem.
Retired Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart said Colorado Springs is far from alone in needing to set a clear path to help for troops.
"Truly there is no place that is doing it," said the general, who holds a seat on Memorial Hospital's board of directors.
That's not to say Colorado Springs hasn't been trying - two nonprofits, the Peak Military Care Network and the Mount Carmel Center for Excellence hold the goal of seamless care for troops.
Peak Military Care Network executive director Kate Hatten said bringing in the Syracuse experts could help make those programs better.
"We're going to steal as many good ideas as we can," she said.
Syracuse's institute, the first of its kind, has spent the past few years studying how communities care for veterans and troops.
"There's a growing chorus across the country to make the best use of resources we already have," said Jim McDonough, who heads community engagement for the Syracuse program.
McDonough's institute has set up systems to coordinate veteran's services in New York, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. They're working to expand.
"The university is in a position to lend itself to communities around the country," he said.
The push comes after a series of studies found that the biggest barrier for veterans in need of social services wasn't the availability of help, but finding help that's already offered.
"The No. 1 challenge of transition is navigating services and benefits," he said.
For the Pikes Peak region, the goal is to beef up programs now in place to help veterans connect to services they need. In the case of the Peak Military Care Network, veterans can already get help with a phone call to 2-1-1.
Renuart said veterans need more than a friendly voice on the phone, though.
"You need to have an entity that is essentially a case manager for that veteran," he said.
Creating the service will take time and requires getting organizations to agree to framework. A timeline for changes and clear definitions of what those changes entail hasn't been set.
Hatten said the good news is that the Pikes Peak region has plenty of groups ready to step up for veterans in need.
"You're not going to find a community that supports military families and veterans more than this one," she said.
Coordinating those local services for veterans will take on more importance as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars fade into history and once eager donors move money away from nation veteran's groups.
"I'm thoroughly convinced that some of these national initiatives for veterans will fade away with time," McDonough said.
That means more burdens will fall to local charities that will compete for resources, he said, and looking to the federal government for help isn't a great option.
"It's like a well that dried up," McDonough said.
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