Austin trying to tie loose ends in creation of proposed veterans service center

The Commission on Veterans Affairs has run into roadblocks in trying to submit a grant application to obtain funds for the creation of a streamlined veterans services center in Austin.

The Commission on Veterans Affairs has run into roadblocks in trying to submit a grant application to obtain funds for the creation of a streamlined veterans services center in Austin.

With only 13 days until a grant deadline, the city’s Commission on Veterans Affairs is attempting to organize a grant application to fund a one-stop shop veterans services center in Austin.

The commission discussed the grant at a Nov. 22 emergency meeting, which highlighted the issues faced by the commission in its attempt to streamline veteran services.

With the Dec. 6 grant application deadline quickly approaching, the commission has yet to confirm a location for the service center or receive commitments from a conglomerate of the city’s veterans service providers that will work together to facilitate the one-stop shop. The grant would be issued by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute of Texas.

Pete Salazar, the vice chair of the Commission on Veterans Affairs, stressed several times throughout the meeting how significant the grant is for providing adequate services for Austin’s veterans community. The mission of the one-stop shop is not to bring more services to Austin but to make it easier for veterans to obtain the services that already exist. These providers would assist veterans with services such as employment, Veterans Affairs enrollment, education, mental health and housing.

“Austin service providers need to play well together to serve a greater population,” Salazar said. “As Austinites and as a group, we need to pull out resources to better serve our community and specifically our veterans."

The way the system is currently set up, according to Salazar, service providers are spread far and wide across the city. For veterans looking to utilize these services, the process is arduous; it requires research and a lot of traveling back and forth. He said this is especially hard for veterans who are new to the city.

“If you’re new to this community you will be lost for six months to a year [trying to find services],” Salazar said. “We are not trying to replace service providers that exist. We are just trying to streamline it. We need to take those ties and make them more visible for people coming into our community.”

Mitchell Gibbs, the executive director of Front Steps, an organization that works with the homeless and veterans to find affordable housing, shelter, medical care and other supportive services, asked Salazar how the funds would be utilized. The answer was not completely clear.

Salazar explained there are still loose ends that need to be tied up before the grant application is submitted and that it is not clear where the funds would be used—but that they would be used where they need to be to set up the one-stop shop. Salazar also said if the grant application was successful, it would be easier for the commission to acquire matching funds from the city.

One of among the loose ends is finding an adequate facility. Currently, the Commission on Veterans Affairs meets at the Veteran Resource Center located on the Austin Community College Highland Campus. The commission is trying to get ACC to donate space for the one-stop shop; however, the college has not yet committed. A representative from ACC at the meeting said he plans to bring the request to Molly Beth Malcolm, ACC’s vice president of community engagement and public affairs.

The grant from the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute would only be one step of many in obtaining the funds needed to create the service center, but Salazar said success with this application would be a “step in the door” for obtaining further funds from the city and other organizations.

Anna Baker is the manager of the women’s veterans program with the Texas Veterans Commission. She said the idea of a one-stop shop is a positive for veterans, especially those who are just getting out of the military.

“I like the idea; as a veteran, especially if you’re just transitioning out, it may be overwhelming,” Baker said. “It’s good to have a place where they could come to and have somebody help direct them.”

The other benefit a one-stop shop offers, according to Baker, is a place for veterans to connect, which she said is especially important.