Many of us enjoyed a three-day Memorial weekend full of family barbecues, trips to the beach or lake, and the official kickoff to summer. Hopefully, during all that fun, we also remember the reason for the day off work: to honor those soldiers that made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country and the American way of life. Let us recommit ourselves as individual citizens to serve our country in small and big ways, and support our veterans and military families. To find immediate ways that you can serve in your community, visit Serve.gov or MissionServe.
Unfortunately after 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, I am afraid the general population feels removed from the personal and civic sacrifices made by our service members, veterans, and military families. As a country we are falling short and can do better. Recently the White House launched JoiningForces.gov, led by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, to create a national dialogue about how to address the issues facing our military families. AmeriCorps can be an important part of this conversation as we look for cost-effective and powerful ways to better serve America's military community.
One of the lesser-known parts of the bi-partisan Serve America Act was the creation of a Veterans Corps under AmeriCorps to engage more veterans in service, help put their skills to work to address the needs of local communities, and help them transition back to civilian life. A robust network of Veteran Corps service programs across the country has enormous potential to meet the unique challenges of veterans and military families. The Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs' Vet Corps, which connects Iraq and Afghanistan veterans on college campuses through service projects and provides resources to veterans recovering from Traumatic Brain Injury, serves as a good pilot for how these programs might operate nationwide. This AmeriCorps program is an excellent example of how the federal government can work with states to meet the needs of veterans at the local level.
Imagine AmeriCorps programs like City Year operating on every Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps installation in the country, working as tutors and after-school coordinators to provide the best educational opportunities to the children of our military families. Military children have a tough time staying on track academically because they move every few years and face added stress when their parents are deployed overseas. In addition, think about the young military spouses that have a difficult time maintaining employment due to continuous relocation. These spouses serve as a perfect pool of AmeriCorps applicants; through AmeriCorps, they can supplement their family income with a stipend, earn an education award, and gain job skills.
Despite the vision for a Veterans Corps under the Serve America Act, we have not moved aggressively enough to develop and grow these types of programs. The primary challenge with developing new programs over the last two years has been the uncertainty of AmeriCorps funding. The House of Representatives voted to eliminate funding entirely for the Corporation for National & Community Service in the FY11 budget before constituents from across the country called on their Members of Congress to save service programs. The Corporation for National & Community Service was saved with only a 6 percent cut in FY11, but the same Congress has again proposed its elimination in the FY12 budget.
Serving our veterans and military families should never get jammed up in partisan politics and government bureaucracy. AmeriCorps programs represent a true model for public-private partnership. They coordinate across federal agencies, state and local governments, corporations, and innovative nonprofit organizations. Now is the time ramp up the Veterans Corps to meet the needs of America's military families.
Add your name to the ServeNext.org petition to tell Congress to fully fund AmeriCorps in 2012. Congress must provide leadership through funding. To accomplish this, every American must also be an advocate for our military families, and not just on Memorial Day.