Soon after a new veterans training center opened four months ago, workers there realized that veterans had more needs than the center was set up to provide.
The center’s primary aim is to help veterans transition to the civilian workforce through education and ensuring that they get proper academic credit for the training they received while serving in the military.
But what they quickly found out, center director Trish Ross said, is that many veterans had basic needs such as housing, food and medical care that had to be addressed. Workers at the center have been helping the veterans make contact with community organizations, she said, but now the United Way of Central Georgia is stepping in.
“That’s why linking with United Way is so vitally important, because we get a lot of requests,” Ross said. “That will help us expand that ability to help people.”
On Monday, the United Way and Middle Georgia State University, which operates the center, signed an agreement for United Way to start one of the nation’s first Mission United programs. Mission United is a new United Way initiative aimed at helping veterans and active duty military members connect with local groups that can help them with basic needs.
The center, called the Veterans Education Career Training Resource Center, or VECTR, will house the Mission United program. The center opened Aug. 2 and has helped about 4,000 veterans. Ross said she has already put in a request for 200 additional parking spaces.
She said 88 percent of the veterans have come there for the state Department of Veterans Services office, which helps veterans with benefits issues. Most of the others have come there for career counseling.
Many of the veterans who come there for the Veterans Services office, though, end up getting other help once they learn what the center has to offer, Ross said.
United Way has begun the process of expanding the staff to manage the new program, and it plans to begin helping veterans during the first quarter of 2017.
While the signing ceremony was being held in the center lobby, a steady stream of veterans was coming in and signing in on computers in the lobby.
One of those was Mike Jordan of Byron, an Air Force veteran. He was there to see the Veterans Services office, but he was also interested in learning more about how the center can help him further his education.
“Instead of running to multiple different places, it’s great to go to one place and get information about everything,” he said.