Updated: May 4, 2014 at 10:43 am
Military families in need of help have a new number to call for custom-tailored care.
The Peak Military Care Network, a clearinghouse for agencies that help troops, veterans and their families, has partnered with the Pikes Peak United Way's 2-1-1 program to give those in need a single number for a variety of help.
"It's a 'no wrong door' approach," said Kate Hatten, the network's executive director.
Peak Military Care Network has been in the works for years as a way to connect local services for veterans and government agencies including the federal Department of Veterans Affairs and the military.
Getting two dozen nonprofits and various levels of government on the same page proved challenging, though.
"They're just not used to collaborating on these issues," said retired Army Lt. Gen. Ed Anderson, one of the network's organizers. "But I have to tell you they all came together, and the result was the peak military care network."
The network was first envisioned in a Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments study of the impacts of military growth that accompanied a Pentagon move to double the size of Fort Carson in 2005.
Planners realized there needed to be a central way to harness the region's massive resources for veterans, troops and military families so services could be easily accessed and coordinated, Hatten said.
The single-stop was designed to give troops connections to everything from help for mental illness and emergency cash to help going to school or getting a job.
Key to making the network function is having each of its partners plugged in, so the psychologist can connect troops to the food bank and the food bank can connect them to the college.
"There were a lot of large communities supportive of our military and veterans, but everybody didn't know what everybody else was doing," Hatten said.
Since 9/11, programs to support troops and veterans have burgeoned in Colorado Springs. Many, like The Home Front Cares, were started because veterans in the region didn't want to see a repeat of how troops were treated in the wake of the Vietnam War.
"When we came back from Vietnam, the welcome we received was not very nice," said Tom Daschbach, an Air Force veteran and executive director of Home Front. "When I came back to Travis Air Force Base in 1969, it was highly recommended you get out of uniform as quickly a possible."
Over a decade, Home Front became one of the largest military-aimed charities in Colorado, but linking it to other nonprofits and agencies was frequently difficult.
"It's a team effort, and all the tools we can use are appreciated," Daschbach said. "A lot of people are doing a lot of things, but it all has the same objective - to support the troops."
The volume of resources can be difficult to navigate and can leave some needs unmet if veterans make a wrong turn, Hatten said.
Now, with the network in place, a military family seeking one form of help can be directed to more assistance that could address underlying causes, like war-caused mental illness or unclaimed veterans benefits.
"You can look at the immediate needs and also deal with long-term issues," Hatten said.
The network's integration of resources comes as demand for help spikes.
As the Pentagon works to cut its budget by $900 billion over a decade, the military is shedding troops. The Army plans to cut 80,000 soldiers, and the Air Force has plans to downsize by 25,000.
Hatten said the cuts will mean more veterans in need in Colorado Springs who can get help through the network.
"It's more important in times of downsizing."
In a week after its launch, the network has been getting about six calls for help per day to the 2-1-1 line. Hatten expects that number to balloon.
"We have really just begun outreach on this resource, so we will continue to track call volume and needs as we move forward," she said.