What’s the model of excellence for supporting veterans and military families?

I hate the saying that great ideas come from thinking outside the box. People who claim to think outside the box only see boundary lines. I know this from experience.

By the time I got to Diyala Province in Iraq in 2006, we had already been fighting the insurgents for three years. The military war-gamed for the Cold War, but this was a new type of war, with local fighters operating independently in their communities. At the time I’m sure someone said that we should think outside the box. Instead, we found ourselves boxed in.

As Coalition Force Commander in Diyala, I was responsible for enacting the bold new strategy directed by General David Petraeus. This strategy, called counter-insurgency, removed the decision-making process from Baghdad and put it in the hands of troops like me, on the ground in the villages.

Fast forward to 2014, when 1,000 service members are returning home from military service in Afghanistan each day. Just as we needed to think differently at war, we need to think of better ways to manage the reintegration of our service men and women into our communities. Resources and assistance for veterans and military families need to be better synchronized.  The Department of Veterans Affairs seems overwhelmed with claims, so the great need for more services and synchronization is clear.

The CLASSY Awards being held in San Diego this weekend—May 2 and 3—seek to highlight organizations that drive true social impact in this area. I’m affiliated with a top nominee—one that I chose to join when I retired from the U.S. Army. I selected Easter Seals because of its ability and willingness to wrap its arms around veterans and military families by adapting its community-based model of excellence.

Easter Seals Dixon Center and the other nominees have stopped thinking outside the box and started imagining the fantastic. It is not enough to replicate community programs that already exist—or even to create new ones.

Rather, we must create our own grassroots force at local levels to ensure that veterans and military families thrive where they live. We must recognize that we need programs where veterans aren’t singled out for their unique needs but embraced within existing “civilian” programs.

At Easter Seals Dixon Center, our 550+ affiliates are using existing community-based support systems to serve the millions who have been impacted by conflicts going back to World War II. We follow inclusive practices: if you or your family member wore a uniform, you are welcome.

There is a lot of good being done for veterans and their families, as evidenced by my fellow CLASSY Awards nominees. We need more organizations like them—organizations that are willing to be inclusive, not just create new programs.

So the next time someone tells you to “think outside the box,” don’t do it.

Instead, just think.


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