The Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council (LVMAC) is an organization which continually adapts to identified needs. Programs are added, dropped or modified in response to changing circumstances. Nothing is held sacred. An effective solution to a need is the driver.
Since its founding in 2003, LVMAC has also become increasingly sophisticated in how it tackles needs. It has moved beyond simple team/single organization projects to those requiring a more collaborative, sophisticated approach involving multiple organizations.
A brief overview of some our efforts
- Military Service Month Celebrations: Parades, ceremonies and special occasions are designed to remind the public of the importance of our military as well as to honor and acknowledge those serving in the Armed Forces of the United States and those who have served (military veterans). LVMAC has been arranging Bethlehem’s annual Memorial Day Parade and Allentown’s Armed Forces Week Banquet.
- Military Deployments Support Program: A program established to support our local military units and those deployed servicemembers from the Lehigh Valley. The intent is to involve the community in supporting their military. Efforts have included assisting the member organizations in care package efforts, providing phone cards to units, educating military families on their taxes, and sponsoring or supporting deployment and homecoming ceremonies.
- Monument and Marker Project: This is a project which catalogued for the first time the vast majority of the Lehigh and Northampton county monuments and markers in an effort to raise awareness of veterans’ contributions in service to this society, to promote the adoption of untended monuments, and to encourage celebrations at them.
- Veterans Awareness Information Program: Our object is to use any available means of communication to raise the awareness of our Lehigh Valley veterans, their families, and others of the benefits, entitlements, and available services in the local community useful to veterans and their families. With the loss of the Lehigh Valley Red Cross Helpline and the limitations of a County Directors of Veterans Affairs system, the need has become more acute as the current war era has progressed. Recent efforts have included a redesigned website and an improved blog site which both feature information-finding pages. A Facebook page has now been added to tap into the social networking phenomenon. Future efforts will include an effort to update and expand the new but underdeveloped PA 2-1-1 East Call Center service for military veterans’ resources.
- Veterans Reading Brigade: A new community educational outreach effort intended to sensitize counselors, teachers and their students to the value and importance of our military, veterans and their families to our own communities and our nation throughout our history and the challenges military families often face. After gaining a school district’s approval, the Reading Brigade brings our community’s veterans into its elementary schools to read short stories to the school children. The book read is either of a historical or military nature, and is then donated to the classroom along with an educator’s guide. Additionally, a supporting website page was added to LVMAC’s website to provide carefully selected links as useful resources for teachers, counselors, parents and students.
- Scholarship Program: The program’s primary purposes are to provide funding to Lehigh Valley veterans seeking training or retraining for well-paying jobs, preferably in the Greater Lehigh Valley; and to encourage local high school students to pursue military service. Veterans must have served on active duty (other than for training) since 16 October 1981 and high school students, other than children of veterans, must commit to completion of a college ROTC program with the intent of entering military service. Since there is no conscription, LVMAC wants to ensure a supply of well-qualified candidates for junior leadership positions in the armed forces.
- A’s for Vets (Veterans Supportive Schools Program): Working with the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges (LVAIC), LVMAC is in the process of bringing all of the Lehigh Valley’s higher educational institutions (universities, colleges, community colleges, and trade schools) together in an alliance to provide a supportive school environment which serves the purposes of the new GI Bill. LVMAC recognizes that such an effort has tremendously beneficial social and economic implications for our nation and our local community. Our objective is to ensure the Post 9/11 GI Bill serves its purposes of both transitioning and retraining returning military veterans for employment as members of the civilian workforce – becoming productive citizens in their local communities (preferably ours). In collaboration, these schools will examine best practices, adopting those that purposefully suit our area, and also develop meaningful process and outcome metrics for the purposes of self-evaluation and grants – an aspect of planning most often neglected.
- Beginning Careers Employment Program: The number one need of the local, returning veteran – but often forgotten – is employment. Beginning Careers is a new approach to problem and is under development. It replaces Operation JOVE (Job One Veterans Employment) program, a well-developed and useful program which had limited success. This program’s purpose is to actively assist veterans of the most recent service eras (although others will be helped) to find and maintain local, well-paying industrial jobs in the Lehigh Valley. Local industry is seeking veterans but also having difficulty finding them. If collaboration with the PA Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) can be arranged, this program will include direct contact of returning veterans (recruit), use of On-the- Job-Training (OJT) programs (train), and direct working with and education of local industry employers who seek veterans (hire).
- Healthcare in Our Community Program: Veterans’ healthcare nowadays requires a community-wide investment and commitment to meet their needs. Veterans often have unique needs. Sometimes they sustain long-term illnesses or life-threatening injuries. As a result, we seek to collaboratively assist the U.S. Departments of Defense (DoD), Veterans Affairs (VA), Health and Humans Services (DHHS) and any other governmental health care agencies, inclusive of state and local, in accomplishing their missions of providing first-class care to military service members, military veterans and their families. Our aim is the Lehigh Valley’s military service members, veterans and their families receive accessible and integrated health care services of the highest quality along the full continuum of care, including specialized services unique to their needs, no matter the source. In reality, the vast majority of veterans and their families living here depend upon community hospital networks when they seek care. Therefore, proactive awareness and education on the part of the local, professional medical establishment is necessary. Currently, all the area’s hospital networks are participating in the program.
- Veterans Mental Health Initiatives: This is an area of endeavor where programs have come and gone. Our recent focus has been to encourage state initiatives that make a difference in mental healthcare. The Veterans Sanctuary Project, which served veterans with the co-occurring addiction and PTSD and required government-community cooperation, failed because federal (particularly the VA), state and local county governments limited their thinking and could not find ways to work with it, despite calls for such efforts nationally. Meanwhile, we continue to publish and distribute an LVMAC-tailored, copyrighted booklet to inform and educate spouses, parents, children and friends on what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is about, to recognize its symptoms; and how to obtain assistance – especially local assistance in the Lehigh Valley. The booklet has also proven useful to local judiciary, legislative and municipal officials.
- Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing © Program: A recreational program conducted in partnership with the PHWFF, Inc. with the goal of assisting in the physical and emotional rehabilitation of the Lehigh Valley’s disabled veterans and service members through the use of fly fishing and fly tying education and outings. If not the first, LVMAC was among the first to introduce this program into Pennsylvania. The program is an example of using a member organization, Trout Unlimited – Hokendauqua, to execute an LVMAC program tailored to Lehigh Valley needs. It brings people from all walks of life together as a community to help our disabled military veterans obtain a normal as possible life.
- Veterans Visitation Program: Most veterans organizations place heavy emphasis on VA and state veterans homes and many overlook the other long-term care facilities. Consequently, a gap in attention occurs where often most needed – the private sector. We created this program to encourage and facilitate member and other local community organizations in visiting as many veterans possible in nursing homes and personal care/assisted living facilities throughout Lehigh and Northampton Counties for the purpose of ensuring their welfare and improving their quality of life.
- Lehigh Valley Homeless Veterans Action Committee (LVHVAC): This is another, evolving collaborative effort with community partners – one that focuses on recovering homeless veterans in the Lehigh Valley as full and productive citizens using a continuum of professional services to help in their transition. Current community homeless efforts do not identify veterans as a target group; nor does VA integrate its programs well into the Lehigh Valley community. The intent is to bring homeless services for veterans in the Lehigh Valley up to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh area standards of assistance. It uses alliances and financial assistance to partners to cause attention to veterans. One product already produced is an automated, emergency financial assistance referral workbook for the use of social workers and counselors not familiar with special, veterans financial assistance programs -- an outgrowth of an effort to get emergency financial aid providing organizations catering to military and veterans in the Lehigh Valley (such as Keystone Wounded Warriors, Operation Homefront, Blue Star Mothers of the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania Veterans Foundation, PA Wounded Warriors) to work together to improve coverage, responsiveness and efficiency.
- Government Affairs Program: We aim to promote through education and studies responsible, useful legislation and regulations – whether local, state, or federal – which will improve the welfare of the Lehigh Valley veteran and military populations. One signal effort has been an effort to reform the state’s inadequate and antiquated veterans affairs system. Our objective is to establish a properly staffed State Department of Veterans Affairs with a cabinet-level secretary, as exist in more progressive states. We need this to proactively and directly interact with state and federal agencies on an equal footing, to ensure better state responsiveness to its veterans in providing the programs they need, and to assure direct accountability to the citizenry. If properly done, it is one of the few state agencies which can produce both beneficial and monetary returns on investment.