I was basically a child when I joined the military, like many of my fellow veterans. I even graduated high school early so that I could leave for basic training as soon as possible. Like many fellow veterans, I opted to stay in the service for 20 years.
When you join the military as a kid and don’t leave until you are well into your 30s, you become acutely aware of the fact that you’ve never had to function outside the military as an adult, and that, my friends, is a terrifying realization.
You’d think the government would have a program or system to set veterans up for success post-retirement or separation.
You’d be hoping for a bit too much. Luckily, veterans tend to take care of their own, and I was blessed to have the chance to sit down with one such entrepreneurial veteran this week.
Grateful for the opportunity to showcase and explain how MIL-VETS is enhancing the veteran ecosystem for veterans present and future!
Big shout-out to Mike King and ESPN Richmond for the invitation! pic.twitter.com/Q6WBzK0UUO
— Eddie Garcia (@EddieGarciaVA) November 7, 2022
A Family Affair
Military service is in Eddie Garcia’s DNA. Growing up in, as he put it, “staunchly patriotic” south Texas, he was destined for military service. Both of his grandfathers were WWII veterans, and his great-grandfather was a WWI veteran.
And while life for his grandparents wasn’t always easy as Hispanic families living through segregation and racism, they were always proud of their country and the service they gave to it.
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This pride and call to serve carried on into Eddie, who joined at 17 years of age into the Reserves. Like many young patriots, after the attacks on September 11th, he knew he had to do more, so he immediately went to his recruiter and went from being a part-time patriot to active duty.
The military gave Eddie many gifts, including his wife and two kids. Like many in the Army, Eddie jumped out of perfectly good airplanes, something this Air Force veteran will never understand but appreciates nonetheless.
Indeed a veterans vet, Eddie spent 11 years enlisted and then spent another 11 years as a commissioned officer, so he knows how to work for a living and lead for a living. After spending the last five years of his career as an Army Legislative Liaison in DC, the time came to retire. Like the rest of us, he got a taste of how veterans are ‘taken care of’ during their transition.
In other words, nothing substantive has changed. And the acronym still sounds like an STD. https://t.co/nAuHfb4nYl
— Doctrine Man (@Doctrine_Man) December 14, 2022
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Congress mandates that military members go through what is called the Transition Assistance Program or TAP before they separate or retire from the military. The program is meant to set veterans up for success in finding employment, filing for disability, and knowing what they are entitled to post-service.
The reality is the program has become just a box-checking exercise for installations and often leaves servicemembers feeling “overwhelmed” and “anxious.” Eddie explains:
“…they give you an excel spreadsheet with 500 organizations that do something for you – but who can go through 500 organizations just to find what they need?”
When you are set to retire or separate, the mountain of tasks you must complete is the size of Everest. Between the medical appointments, VA appointments, regular out processing with your unit, and ensuring you return all of your military gear so you don’t get hit with a debt.
Of course, many of us still had to work up until our last day; it’s damn near impossible to do any of the work you must do to get yourself set up for post-military.
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Eddie realized that while there are hundreds of programs and opportunities for veterans to assist with their new life, taking advantage of these opportunities is another story:
“It’s not a lack of data or resources; there are so many that it is overwhelming for veterans, you don’t know where to go…”
And so Eddie decided there had to be a better way.
NEW REPORT—The transition from military to civilian life can be challenging for our nation’s servicemembers. The @DeptOfDefense’s Transition Assistance Program can help, but DOD could take steps to ensure that more servicemembers get full program benefits: https://t.co/KbAOLzpjlB pic.twitter.com/472si9i7cx
— U.S. GAO (@USGAO) December 12, 2022
There’s An App For That!
I couldn’t help but chuckle when Eddie mentioned the excel spreadsheet with 500 organizations. While I was in the Air Force, and retired a year before Eddie from another installation, I knew exactly what he was talking about.
I, too, received a poorly photocopied teeny tiny print excel spreadsheet with ridiculously long URL addresses and a smile from the coordinator as if this product was at all helpful. Thankfully, we have technologically savvy veterans like Eddie to modernize access to services in a way that the U.S. government just can’t.
Let’s face it, when was the last time you went to a government website that wasn’t complete trash and didn’t force you to Sherlock Holmes your way to the information you need? Eddie realized that there needed to be a way to meet veterans where they were, on their phones.
So he created an app called MIL-VETS that is currently available in the Apple App Store.
This app hosts services for veterans that you can access in less than two clicks.
RELATED: The Words We Say – A Veteran’s Reflection on Military Oaths
No more diving deep into websites that make no sense or rifling through pamphlets and handouts. You can literally find information from small business loans for veterans to recruiting services for veterans.
COV 5th ANNIVERSARY
• Celebrate the lives we touch-$6.5M 5K vets
•Challenges helping vets in a failing economy
•Thousands of vets’ children are at stake. When we take a vet case we take their kids on as well
We are make a difference in real time! pic.twitter.com/gikFewbceF
— Code of Vets ™ (@codeofvets) October 7, 2022
Building A Community
One of the nice things about being a veteran is that we have shared experiences. However, it isn’t the same as it was in our grandfather’s day.
Eddie’s grandfathers and their brothers all fought in the same war. And when they came home, they all built each other’s homes with their bare hands using their VA home loans.
And they all started and joined their local VFWs; in short, they stuck together. But, unfortunately, today’s veterans like Eddie and myself don’t have that same sort of tight-knit community.
After retirement or separation, we tend to scatter to the wind, and it’s easy to feel alone, lost, and forgotten. Eddie’s app is a step towards building our veteran community.
Not only can you find services to help you with your transition, but veteran and military spouse-owned business can list on the app. What is incredibly cool about this feature is if you find yourself in a new area after you depart from the service and you want to not only support veteran small business owners but meet other vets, you can pull up your app and find a local veteran-owned coffee shop or military spouse-owned book store.
Amazing how one man can do more for veterans than a system that promises to care for us.
Eddie put it perfectly:
“They are providing veteran transition at an analog pace in a digital mobile world.”
Gosh, if only someone in DC could see and solve a problem with such clarity.
Hands for those who agree -> 🙋♂️🙋♀️ pic.twitter.com/c7hSzzy7Gt
— Eddie Garcia (@EddieGarciaVA) December 14, 2022
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“Gosh, if only someone in DC could see and solve a problem with such clarity.”
Surely you don’t want to wreck a good thing. God forbid involving the source of the problem, government bureaucrats, with the solution to it.