By Robert McDonald and Vikki Spruill
Tribune News Service
On the Fourth of July, our nation comes together to celebrate the freedoms we enjoy, freedoms our service members, veterans and their families have made possible through their sacrifices.
Just as these Americans responded to the call to defend our liberties, our nation must respond to our call to duty: ensuring veterans and their families have a successful transition from service to community.
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Together, one nation with one common goal, we must serve those who have served us.
As more than 2.6 million service members transition home from conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and duty around the globe, it will take the country working together to put in place the services and support our veterans and their families have so honorably earned and so richly deserve.
Only more robust partnerships among organizations from across all sectors — community institutions, corporations, nonprofits, government and philanthropy — can accomplish this goal.
Building on strategic partnerships, more than 30 philanthropic organizations have taken the Philanthropy-Joining Forces Impact Pledge. First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden helped launch the initiative last year, along with its leaders — the Blue Shield of California Foundation, Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, Lincoln Community Foundation and Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
This unprecedented collaboration between the charitable sector and government has already raised philanthropic commitments of more than $276 million. In the interest of establishing best practices, all those who have pledged are actively sharing information, research, results and lessons learned.
This collaboration is already producing results. In 2013, there were some 722,000 unemployed veterans in the labor force. In 2014, that number dropped to about 573,000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported around 507,000 veterans still unemployed across the United States. So, while partnerships between government and the private sector have contributed greatly to the downward trend, there is more work to be done.
This summer, the Department of Veterans Affairs, in partnership with the Red Cross and Coursera, is launching learning hubs in 27 cities across the country to help veterans develop new skills that open pathways to new careers. Veterans Affairs has also partnered with LinkedIn to add LinkedIn's robust job search services to the toolkit the VA provides to veterans as they matriculate through the Transition Assistance Program.
Public-private partnerships are also addressing another major challenge — veteran homelessness. Ending homelessness among veterans may seem like an impossible goal, but we have already witnessed meaningful progress in cities like Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Houston and New Orleans. Thanks to innovative partnerships among the Department of Veterans Affairs, government partners, philanthropy and community leadership, these cities have announced their end to chronic veteran homelessness. The National League of Cities has taken the lead in bringing together government and philanthropic organizations in a coordinated, nationwide effort that has already earned the support of 460 mayors, seven governors, and 137 county and city officials.
These are just a few examples of what partnerships can accomplish for veterans.
We can also do more.
To build on these efforts, VA is engaged in its nationwide Summer of Service, committing to growing its partnerships by enlisting the support of individuals and organizations in communities across the country who want to help VA give back to those who have given so much to our nation. And VA is working closely with the Council on Foundations and its network of philanthropic partners to identify even more ways to support our nation's commitment to veterans and their families through volunteerism and community engagement.
Americans observe the Fourth of July as a day of celebration. We should also recognize the Fourth as a call to action on behalf of our veterans and their families — to give our veterans service and support that is commensurate with what they have given all of us.
Please, join us.
Serve those who have served.
Robert A. McDonald is the secretary of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Vikki Spruill is president and CEO of the Council on Foundations.