By Jim Lorraine, President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership
Every September, our team at America’s Warrior Partnership hosts the annual Warrior Community Integration Symposium to discuss key issues affecting military veterans, their families and caregivers. Our goal each year is to provide attendees with the knowledge and partnerships they need to empower the veterans they serve within their local communities.
At this year’s event – our sixth annual Symposium – we welcomed more than 530 veteran-serving professionals from across the nation to learn from an impressive array of speakers, all of whom touched on a different aspect of this year’s theme: Empowered Veterans. Many of our Symposium speakers embody what it means to be an empowered veteran, including our keynote speakers, Scotty and Tiffany Smiley.
Scotty Smiley became the Army’s first blind active-duty officer after an encounter with a suicide car bomber during the Iraq War. He and his wife, Tiffany, spoke at the Symposium to share how they came together as a family to overcome this adversity. Tiffany related how she had the option of signing a form to medically discharge Scotty from service after he was injured. However, she believed in letting Scotty make his own decision as to how he would lead his life and supported his decision to return to active duty upon recovery. Their story exemplifies how important it is to provide veterans and their families with the means and opportunity to achieve the type of life they desire.
The Symposium honored several other individuals for their continuing work to empower veterans. One of the most notable was Bonnie Carroll, the founder of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and the recipient of our fifth annual Leo K. Thorsness Leadership Award. Bonnie spoke about the importance of providing those who have been impacted by the death of a military loved one with emotional support and community connections to process their grief and find healing.
Symposium attendees also had the opportunity to participate in a fireside chat with two Medal of Honor recipients – Sal Giunta and Clint Romesha – moderated by Wounded Warrior Project CEO Michael Linnington. These veterans spoke about their military experiences and how their service continues to affect the life decisions they make today in their civilian careers. One of the highlights of their conversation focused on the transition from military to civilian life – while every veteran’s experience is different, it is critical to maintain connections with fellow service members to support each other in building a post-military life.
In addition to hearing from veterans themselves, Symposium attendees learned about new programs and policies that are slated to help the country improve the way we empower veterans, their families and caregivers. As an example, Army veteran Garrett Cathcart introduced a new program of America’s Warrior Partnership called Mission Roll Call . With millions of veterans currently unaffiliated with the Department of Veterans Affairs or another veteran-serving organization, Mission Roll Call is a movement meant to provide all veterans with the opportunity to make their voices heard on the issues impacting their communities. The insights and concerns that veterans share through polls and open questions on the movement’s social media channels and MissionRollCall.org will soon be delivered directly to civic leaders at the local, state and national levels to compel lasting, positive change.
Key policy makers from Washington, D.C., were also on-hand at the Symposium to inform attendees of how legislators are working to empower veterans. Acting Deputy Secretary of the VA James Byrne shared updates on how the VA is working together with community groups across the country to improve access to national resources for veterans at the local level. Additionally, the concluding session of the Symposium featured one of the first times that a panel discussion included representatives from both the U.S. Senate and House Committees on Veterans’ Affairs. This bipartisan group of men and women provided attendees with a better understanding of how national policymakers are working to collaborate with community groups.
After the Symposium concluded, attendees reported that this year included some of the most impactful speakers yet. Our post-event survey found that 90 percent of attendees had improved their knowledge of best practices in community integration as a result of attending. More photos and recaps of the event will soon be available AmericasWarriorPartnership.org. Stay tuned to our website for details and information on next year’s Symposium.
About the Author
Jim Lorraine is President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership, a national nonprofit that empowers communities to empower veterans. The organization’s mission starts with connecting community groups with local veterans to understand their unique situations. With this knowledge in mind, America’s Warrior Partnership connects local groups with the appropriate resources to proactively and holistically support veterans at every stage of their lives. Learn more about the organization at AmericasWarriorPartnership.org .