“Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.”
― Abraham Lincoln

By Gregg Fishman.

Maybe it’s patriotism or pride. Maybe it’s the shared experiences of being in the military but it seems like veterans — even those who never served together — share a common bond.  There is a depth of understanding and camaraderie.  Maybe that’s one reason why in an ordinary government building in Orange County, something very special is happening.

Younger veterans who are still trying to find their own place in the world after their military service are getting much-needed work experience by helping other veterans from as far back to World War II get the benefits to which they are entitled. And while it’s a County-run program, the Veterans Administration (VA) picks up the cost.

The VA benefits system can be complex. People of all ages need help understanding what benefits they can receive and how to apply for them. That’s especially true because their needs and eligibility may change over time. Like many larger counties with a significant military and ex-military population, Orange County has a veteran’s service office that helps them apply for and receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

And like in many such offices, many of the people who work there are also veterans. They know how to navigate the VA and they share a common bond with the people they serve. But Orange County has taken that a step further. With an influx of younger veterans from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan coinciding with aging Vietnam era veterans who need more services, their office would frequently see long lines at the intake desk. They needed more staff, but didn’t have the budget to hire them.

Orange County Veterans Service Officer Marco Martinez, an Iraq  War veteran himself, remembered that the VA has a program that helps employers put qualified veterans to work while they pursue an education or other training. The VA would pay their salary. So he tapped into that VA program to help address his staffing issues.

Now, follow me here — Orange County is helping more veterans, by hiring veterans to help them.  And the VA covers the cost to have veterans help other veterans get their VA benefits.  The older vets get the benefits they deserve and the younger vets get work experience that helps them adjust back into civilian life. And all of it saves money for Orange County! That’s the kind of innovative thinking and programming that qualifies as a county best practice.