Veterans Count – VSO (Veterans Service Organizations) Spotlight

Want to be contacted by one of our Veteran Advocates? Check your electronics  aptitude first!

Veterans Count is the philanthropic arm of Easter Seals Military and Veterans Services, which provides resources and services to veterans, service members and their families. Easter Seals Military and Veterans Services, in conjunction with Veterans Count, developed a one-of-a-kind program which has a proven track record of helping service members and their families with a wide range of family, personal and financial needs.

The following interview was conducted with Judy Fortier, Director of Development for Veterans Count and Easter Seals RI.

In your words, what does Veterans Count do?

Veterans Count started in New Hampshire in 2007, by Mike Salter, long-term Easter Seals (ES) board member, and veteran of US Army Special Forces. Mike felt the country as a whole was not recognizing the military and veterans the way they should be recognized. The ES New Hampshire (NH) Board of Directors (BOD) then led a call to action to then Easter Seals NH Chief Operating Officer, Christine McMahan, to start a relationship with the NH National Guard, and grow their military veterans services. Out of that relationship grew the philanthropic arm, Veterans Count. (Headquarters of Veterans Count is located at 555 Auburn St, Manchester, NH 03103)

Veterans Count provides emergency resources to military veterans and their families when no other resources are available. We are the right arm of standard military and veterans programs. We employ professional master-level care coordinators who provide services to veterans. Veterans Count is the development/philanthropic side of the Easter Seals program to raise money for emergency resources to keep care coordination going.

Rhode Island is in the fundraising stage and does not have a Care Coordinator (CC) currently employed. They’re hoping to start working with their first CC in the fall.

“Since 2007, Veterans Count has helped over 8,000 individuals with suicide prevention, employment, homelessness, substance abuse treatment, transportation, and mental health issues resulting from post-traumatic stress disorder and/or traumatic brain injury.”

Easter Seals is a nearly 100 year-old human service organization that provides support to people of all disabilities, from birth to end of life. At the beginning, Easter Seals served children with physical disabilities, then it morphed to include children with speech, physical and occupational therapy needs, and autism. Easter Seals offers school-based support and Early Intervention which provides support to children from birth to 3 years old with developmental delays and  disabilities. They also offer services and support to adults and seniors with disabilities and provide job placements for adults with disabilities. Just over the past 10 years, they started to bridge the gap to assist servicemembers and veterans.

Not only do we treat individuals with physical therapy or sensory integration needs, we also work with their families to assist with any issues they may have. We take a more holistic way to look at those issues. For service members, veterans, or military families, it’s the family dynamic itself that we want to make sure is healthy.

Veterans Count is the philanthropic arm of Easter Seals that provides resources and emergency services to veterans, servicemembers and their families.

veterans count vso interview

What are the services we can talk about that you provide to veterans?

Veterans Count covers the gaps, usually in an emergency situation, where there aren’t any other resources available for veterans, service members, and their families.

  • Unlike other programs, we can access our funds quickly.
  • We help military families to become more self-sufficient.
    • This is not a handout. Our program is provided in emergencies as a part of a holistic plan for self-sufficiency. This fund bridges financial gaps and prevents individuals and families from falling through the cracks.

Our Care Coordinators first meet with veterans, servicemembers, and/or their families.

  • Care Coordinators meet individuals at their home or in the community and they take a “boots on the ground” approach.
  • Our Care Coordinators do a comprehensive assessment so they may provide an individualized care plan outlining all the needed services that are available for the current servicemember, veteran or their family.
  • These services could include family or financial counseling, child care assistance, transportation/vehicle repair, housing/rent, fuel assistance, tuition, or medical products.
  • Why did this happen (emergency situation) and what can we do and how can we plan to make improvements so it doesn’t happen again?

Veterans Count does not directly pay veterans or military services.

  • We pay the vendors so we may provide gift cards to a supermarket, gas cards or we will pay the utility company directly.
  • When a Care Coordinator meets someone for the first time, during their assessment, they ask a few questions including but not limited to:
    • “Where else have you looked for money?”
    • “Can you contribute anything to this?”
    • “Provide us with 2-3 estimates” (if car needs to get fixed)
  • Veterans Count has a trust and verify philosophy. When doling out dollars from private donors, we make sure to provide their services in a transparent manner.
  • Veterans Count gives their money to any organization that needs it and can help accomplish their mission.
    • For example, Veterans Assembled electronics can say, “Judy, we have a new student, and this person can’t get parking. Could you provide a parking pass?”
    • Operation Stand Down can say, “Judy, this person has fallen through the cracks because of a federal grant that ran out for them.” So we’ll work to solve problems as well. Our funds aren’t specifically reserved for only Easter Seals clients.
    • We don’t really care about which organization or individual receives our money, as long as they get the support they need. Veterans Count tries to meet the unmet need gap that service members needs to impact their family’s quality of life in real time. Veterans Count offers real-time solutions where others can take weeks or months to support their clients.

How did you first get involved with Veterans Count/Easter Seals?

I am the development director for Easter Seals in Rhode Island. Two years ago the Easter Seals national office in Chicago asked affiliates to address the unmet needs of servicemembers, veterans, and their families. Our board of directors supported the call to action and launched Veterans Count here in RI.

I used to be a service coordinator for adults with disabilities, so I understood the role of the care coordinators. As much as organizations try to collaborate and merge, one of the key issues in Rhode Island has always been that there’s no thread linking these support organizations together. Certainly, there is the VA, and they have a community driven nice task force that meets once a month. The VA Task Force brings together the organizations that support veterans, but there are little offerings out there for the family of the veteran or servicemember.

Easter Seals knew this was a fundamental gap in the system. Many VSOs rely on federal dollars and can’t always provide support outside of federal guidelines.

The awesome thing about Easter Seals is that the Care Coordinators can serve as the quarterback for an entire military family: once they come to us, we can coordinate the services with the other organizations for you, rather than an individual going to 5 or 6 organizations to pull together housing assistance, employment, benefits, etc. With Veterans Count, it’s one stop and they’re done. We take out a lot of the frustration and confusion from the frequently asked questions, “who do I go to first” and, “how do I access all these things easily?”

Veterans Count makes life easier for the veteran, servicemember, and their families. We collaborate and work with all city, state, and private groups of the military or veterans. We understand care coordination requires developing key relationships with Veterans Affairs, the Veterans Administration, and VA Hospital alike.

While the National Guard offers their Family Assistance Center, they work primarily with currently serving members.  We work with other MPO’s to provide extra support for a gap in their services. We don’t duplicate services including employment or housing assistance like Veterans Inc and Operation Standdown provide. Gap services include financial assistance, credit counseling, legal, and transportation assistance.

Were you a service member? Was someone in your family?

My father, father in law, and husband are US Army veterans. I also have brothers-in-law, nieces, and nephews who have served in the Army and the Navy.

How did you first get involved with Veteran Assembled electronics (VAe)? What motivates you to continue to work with them?

I first met Julie through Operation Standdown. Two years ago, I attended a Task Force Meeting at the VA hospital, and Julie mentioned she was now with VAe I asked what they were about. When VAe was still in Newport, I took a tour to find out more and I loved what they were doing. So I started spreading the word. Veterans Count mentioned VAe on our Facebook page and we started referring students that we thought could benefit from VAe’s electronics training.

Have you recommended anybody directly to VAe? How does that process work?

Yes, I had a current student, Joe, reach out to Julie directly. Julie explained the electronics technician program briefly over the phone and set up an in-person meeting. Julie was able to determine Joe was qualified for training. Joe’s been in the program for at least a couple of months and is one of their “star pupils.” He’ll most likely graduate mid-summer. Joe absolutely loves the program and has thanked me more than once, “Thank you, it’s the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time.” That feels good all around.

One thing to remember is that these disabled veterans don’t need to use their GI benefits to train with VAe; GI benefits remain in tact. Students can take the electrician training track at VAe, and can use their GI benefits later or even pass down their personal GI benefits to their kids. You have to have a 10% or greater disability to qualify for VAe’s training program.

Does Veterans Count have any specific goals for this year?

In Rhode Island, this is year 1 of our program. While we don’t currently have one, we’re hoping to hire our first RI-based Care Coordinator this fall, with the goal to serve a minimum of 100 servicemembers, veterans, and their families in their first year.

Do you have any events coming up?

We have a few events coming up, but they’re NH based. We will be hosting some in Rhode Island soon. Subscribe to our Facebook events to find out more.

Tell me about Veterans Count’s proudest achievement.

Currently, it has been connecting Joe to VAe

Where can someone find more information about Veterans Count online?

What tips can you recommend that you’d only share with a veteran or anybody reading this blog?

I recognize that searching for support can be, and often is, a daunting task.

What action do you want one of our readers to take in order to find out more or get in touch with you?

If someone finds us from this blog and people start calling, we haven’t hired a Care Coordinator in RI yet. Currently, services are available in NY, NH, VT, MA and are starting to expand in SC. We hope to have our RI Care Coordinator active in Fall 2016.

The Veterans Count main RI office is in Wakefield, RI. 

Easter Seals RI – 213 Robinson Street Wakefield, RI  02879

You can reach Judy Fortier, at (401) 284-1000 x 24

ELECTRONICS CAREERS FOR VETERANS, Everything You Need To Know  And How To Get Started
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