By Spring 2020 M-VETS Student-Advisor Josh Morrow
Veteran issues have been a prominent issue in society for many years, so much so that the federal government budgets over $240 billion to help our Veterans combat these issues. Moreover, in FY 2020, Virginia’s Office Of Veterans And Defense Affairs budgeted roughly $70.7 million towards helping Veterans in Virginia alone. Despite billions of dollars being budgeted by the federal and state governments, not all veterans receive the help they need. Although both the federal and state programs serve vital purposes, they do not necessarily account for lesser thought of necessities in a veteran’s life. Healthcare, homelessness, mental health, and reacclimating veterans back into society are critical issues that plague our veterans but, for those veterans who do not fall into one of those categories, the programs in place do not help combat their more “minor” struggles. I believe these minor struggles are a tremendous void left in a Veteran’s lives and that local businesses and community organizations are best equipped to provide these services.
In October of 2019, Legal Services of Northern Virginia (LSNV) and I volunteered to help a local dentist practice in Alexandria Virginia in administering free dental checkups to veterans in the community. The experience was great because I saw first-hand how a single small business and volunteers came together to provide a much-needed service to the local Veterans in the Alexandria area. In addition to the free dental checkups, the venue also provided a forum for myself and the volunteers from the LSNV to talk to veterans and answer their questions about lesser-known services available to them. The event was an absolute success. The dentists were busy throughout the day, and almost every Veteran stopped to talk to the volunteers from LSNV with questions on how to obtain other services they needed. As everyone knows, dental checkups are necessary to maintain good oral health but can also be expensive. Moreover, obtaining a dental checkup from a federal or state program can be cumbersome and hard to qualify for, making them less attractive options to Veterans. The experience got me to thinking about how other businesses within the community could bridge the gap between the major federal/state programs and lesser thought of services that Veterans need.
When people think about Veteran issues, most people immediately think about healthcare, homelessness, and struggles combating mental health. These stories are captivating headlines of the struggles that many Veterans face but, what gets lost or overlooked in these stories are Veterans struggling to afford the basic necessities they need on a day-to-day basis. For the most part, veterans leave active duty in only a handful of ways. They either retire with additional benefits, separate voluntarily to pursue other endeavors, or are involuntarily separated. For those veterans that retire or separate voluntarily, they often have a plan in place for life after the military, and the adjustment to leaving military service is not as dramatic of a change as someone who was separated from military service against their will. Veterans who voluntarily separate or retire from military service usually have a job in place for them post-separation and have a plan to how they will pay for necessities like healthcare, buying new work attire, moving to a new location, and so forth. However, for some veterans, separation from active duty was not a voluntary experience, and they do not have a plan in place for life after military service. For those Veterans that are involuntarily separated from service, the process can be completed within a few months, leaving them little time to find another job or find a mentor to help them plan for life after the military. These Veterans often struggle to afford necessities such as groceries, getting a haircut, or finding affordable housing because those services were provided to them while in service. These new challenges may seem like small obstacles, but these “smaller” issues are not the primary focus of federal/state Veteran programs. It is these very issues that I believe small businesses and communities can help these Veterans overcome such obstacles by providing these needed services. Like the Alexandria dental practice that opened its doors to Veterans and provided free examinations, other small businesses can also step up to fill the void of services not readily provided by the state/federal programs.
To illustrate my proposal, I hypothesize a situation where a barbershop offers its chairs for barber students to give veterans free or discounted haircuts. To obtain a Virginia Barber License, an applicant must complete 1100 hours of training that includes practical training that involves cutting hair. These students are generally unpaid or offer discounted prices for their cuts. To put this in perspective, my local barber charges me $26 to cut my hair and that does not include any shampoo or styling. For some veterans, they do not have the financial means to afford even a basic haircut like the one I pay for much less anything that would include any additional product. Allowing barber students to utilize the barbershop’s chairs for a weekend to cut Veteran’s hair offers a tremendous opportunity to all parties involved. Veterans would be able to get their needed haircuts, students would get hours towards obtaining a barber license, and the owner of the barbershop gets the positive publicity of helping both the Veterans and the student barbers. To further capitalize on the idea, the barbershop could partner or co-sponsor the event with a local restaurant to cater the event and invite Veteran groups like LSNV to support the event.
The mission to help our Veterans is never-ending, and it will take more than federal and state programs to help all of our Veterans. For some Veterans, they have no families, and their local community is the only support system they have. For a small dental clinic to open up its doors and offer free dental cleanings or a barbershop to open up its chairs to Veterans and students is a powerful gesture of kindness that can make a significant impact in a Veteran’s life. John Heywood coined the phrase “many hands make light work.” My hope is that communities and small businesses begin to come together to help our Veterans because it is the least we can do to show our support for their sacrifices.