How Easterseals helps former service members transition back to civilian life

Sponsored by Easterseals Southern California.

Easterseals Bob Hope Veterans Support Program, funded with a seed grant from The Bob Hope Legacy, provides one-on-one employment transition services to veterans leaving the military for civilian work.

The support program is free for post-Sept. 11, 2001, veterans leaving active or reserve duty who intend to work in Southern California and who have received an honorable, general or other-than-honorable discharge.

The program aims to help veterans and their family members successfully return back into communities and pursue healthy, productive lives.

Veterans who recently left the military or service members who soon will be leaving military service can get one-on-one help from the program’s employment specialists — many who also are military veterans and understand the difficulties and struggles many face when leaving service and returning to their civilian life.

Veterans leaving military service get some help and information before they hang up their uniform, but that doesn’t mean they are really prepared to land into a new job or school or home.

“The sooner they start thinking about it, the better,” said John Funk, director of operations with Easterseals Southern California’s Bob Hope Veteran Support Program.

Funk knows that personally. In 2012, he retired as a Navy captain after a 30-year career that included ship and helicopter squadron commands and immediately began work as a federal civilian worker.

“I was in a great place, but it wasn’t me,” he said of the job.

His own networking and earlier volunteer work led him to Easterseals Southern California in late 2013, and his priorities include expanding the outreach to transitioning military service members and veterans across the region.

“As a senior guy, I had a lot of people who were working for me,” he said. For the younger veterans leaving service, “who is that support for them?”

Assistance is tailored to each veteran, whether it’s help finding a job, figuring out a new career field or profession, going back to college or technical school or starting a new business venture. They can get support to developing a new career goal and path, writing their resumes, networking, and interviewing with potential employers.

“Our services are very tailored and customized for each individual,” Funk said. “We spend a lot of time to get to know them and to listen to them. We are very outcome-based. Whatever the veteran defines as a success to them. Veterans ‘define the outcome.’ We are not nudging them in the direction they want to go. We are helping them navigate the direction they want to go.”

Funk said military members, in particular, spent their careers focused on teamwork and mission without much thought about their own wants or needs, so many don’t readily seek assistance.

“They are cut from the cloth that they are service providers. So sometimes it’s more challenging to ask for help,” Funk said. “Asking for assistance is not asking for a handout.”

Helping them change their thinking to focus on their own transition are nine Easterseals Southern California employment specialists – that includes Funk – who work closely with each veteran. All but one served in the military and can share experiences that enable them to relate to each client on many levels.

“We are coach, advocate, cheerleader, motivator, providing input, holding them accountable,” he said, and are “real frank with them.”

Since its inception in 2014, the Easterseals Bob Hope Veterans Program has helped 750 veterans and family members with employment support and referrals. These include assistance in VA benefits, education, housing, physical and mental health support, financial, and autism therapy.

If you’re a military veteran who left service less than 24 months ago or will be leaving military service within three months, you can get more information about the Easterseals Bob Hope Veterans Support Program by calling (760) 737-3990 or visiting http://www.easterseals.com/ESSCBobHopeVeterans.

You can donate to Easterseals Bob Hope Veterans Support program via their website, and 100 percent of donations go directly to the programs.

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