Combined Arms in Houston Brings Vet Services Under One Roof.
Feeling patriotic is something most Americans have in common on Independence Day. But for the 3.6 million veterans who answered the call of service since 9/11, that patriotism can come at a high price. Unemployment, service related health challenges, PTSD and homelessness are just a few of the issues faced by these vets, a population included in the 21.2 million men and women who have served their country since World War II.
For former Marine John Boerstler, meeting the needs of this important population is a driving force. Boerstler, whose overseas assignments included Iraq and Kuwait, is Executive Director of NextOp a non-profit NGO based in Houston that provides job placement assistance, mentorship and support for vets, with a focus on the fields of energy, construction and healthcare.
“So far we’ve helped place more than 310 vets into jobs,” he explained. But Boerstler’s vision goes beyond NextOp.
Facing what he calls “a classic case of fragmented business,” Boerstler realized that the organizations serving vets weren’t as accessible as they could be. “Everybody was operating in silos, with redundant costs and efforts in eight different locations, making it difficult for vets to get the help they needed.” Working with the Lone Star Veterans Association, with grant funding provided by Wounded Warriors, Boerstler helped create Combined Arms , a partnership of some 30 different organizations serving vets and their families.
“The first step was to get all the groups physically in one location,” he explained. “We were fortunate to have the right leaders onboard from the beginning.” Since its inception in June 2015, Combined Arms has allowed Houston’s 300,000 veterans turn key access to governmental services, from the Houston Office of Veterans Affairs to Grace After Fire and Hope for the Warriors. From legal aid to housing assistance, wellness programming and a program that matches vets with rescued pets, these support organizations take a holistic approach to the transition process.
“The next phase is connecting all of the organizations with technology, which will not only improve communications but raise accountability,” he explained. “Vets can now check in with us both physically onsite or virtually.” The Combined Arms model is one that will be eventually replicated in other cities on a test basis.
“Transition is difficult for many veterans – they don’t know what they don’t know about civilian life. Combined Arms is committed to making Houston and the state of Texas the best place for post-9/11 veterans and their families to live and thrive.”