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Local veterans services look for better coordination

Andrew Goldstein | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Lynn Strezeski was equipped with an arsenal of experience after she left the military.

Already holding a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh and spending her time in the Army as an intelligence analyst, she thought it would be easy for her to find a job. Only, no employer seemed to know what to make of her.

“My Army experience was more of a hindrance than a help,” Ms. Strezeski said.

This is a problem many veterans find themselves in, but it’s not the only difficulty they face when navigating the maze of services available to them. There are 180 organizations in the region that serve veterans, and because of the sheer number and lack of coordination among them, dealing with them is often confusing.

About 25 local nonprofits, government agencies, educational institutions and corporations convened recently at Google’s Bakery Square headquarters to launch an initiative led by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families and the Heinz Endowments to create a coordinated network of service providers that are committed to creating stronger, more efficient and accessible services for the region’s veterans and their families.

The Heinz Endowments gave a $50,000 planning grant that will enable the organizations to conduct a needs analysis of available resources and services. Also, a new provider network will be developed that leverages services from all sectors to address the needs of Pittsburgh’s veteran community.

“There are all types of different services that the people who are in this room offer the veterans and military families,” said Michelle Martin, Google community affairs lead. “To coordinate those efforts so that resources can be better applied and that services are maximized for veterans and their families is the idea.”

With all the options available, ranging from education to health care services, it could be a monumental task for the organizations to become coordinated so that the systems becomes simple for veterans to use.

Joseph Dornbrock, executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America Keystone Chapter, said he believes it is possible.

“Inevitably, any effort to bring groups together is going to result in those who want to work together and those who don’t want to not working together,” he said.

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Employment