November 5, 2015
Oriana Pawlyk | Military Times
Mega retailer Walmart is investing $20 million in veterans groups and is calling attention in a nationwide effort to the professional and personal struggles some veterans face once their military service comes to an end.
It's called Greenlight A Vet, and with prime-time TV spots leading up to Veterans Day next week, organizers hope it will compel the American public to show greater support for the men and women who have fought two wars on their behalf while encouraging veterans to seek the support they may need.
At its core, the project is calling on Americans from coast to coast to display green lights at their homes and workplaces on Nov. 11, a symbolic show of gratitude for the service and sacrifices made by more than 2.5 million military families since the nation went to war in 2001. More broadly, it's calling attention to several veterans advocacy groups, including the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, Team Rubicon and Blue Star Families.
“Some of these programs don’t have the visibility, but with the assets Walmart provides, this could bring the focus to the American public all at once,” said Chris Erickson, an Army veteran and resident at FleishmanHillard, a marketing agency helping Walmart promote Greenlight A Vet. “A veteran can sit for an average of twenty-two weeks in unemployment between their last military paycheck and a new job ... and they just need to know there is a support network out there for them."
Walmart, under its “Welcome Home Commitment” program, has pledged to hire 250,000 veterans by 2020. The company recently hired its 100,000th vet, and has promoted 9,000 since 2013, according to its website.
This is the second time Walmart has given $20 million to veterans groups; in 2011, the company pledged $20 million to vet programs that provide job training, transition help and education.
The Greenlight A Vet website launched Oct. 26. There, organizers are collecting digital support for the initiative, simple clicks that already have surpassed 460,000. The final tally will be displayed during the New York City Veterans Day Parade.
The website also features personal stories from vets like Lourdes, who has worked to overcome post-traumatic stress since her deployment to Iraq. “The only other people who understand this is other vets,” she says. "Being in a place where tomorrow's not guaranteed, you learn how to value life. I went to Iraq, and I made it back home. So I can do anything."
Veterans should be seen as “assets in our communities,” said Maureen Casey, chief operating officer for the Institute for Veterans and Military Families. Fewer than 1 percent of the population has served since 9/11, she said, and many veterans worry that their communities don't understand them.
“Our commitment is to identify ways we can continue to highlight these veterans," Casey said, "whether it’s as simple as green light bulbs, hiring a vet, being a mentor to a vet ... but having an opportunity for broader conversation."
A former special forces staff sergeant, Erickson said he used similar programs in September to transition into his current job from a 10-year Army career. They “help veterans get training," he said, "from basic needs like how their new benefits systems work, how to generate a resume based on a military career, to helping spouses of service members transition as well."