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Meet our Coordination Center Specialists

Illinois Joining Forces (IJF) works to help Illinois veterans navigate the vast resources available to them throughout the state, by connecting them with the organizations that are best suited to meet their individual needs. IJF’s mission would not be possible without the help of the remarkable Coordination Center staff members – William E. Bryant III and Michael Smith.

William E Bryant III

“I really enjoy helping veterans in their time of need.”

William E. Bryant III. served in the United States Marine Corps, working as a heavy equipment mechanic from 1982 – 1985. He separated from the Marine Corps one year early due to vision loss. William has been diagnosed as legally blind since 1992, and he has been working with Illinois Joining Forces for approximately 2 years at the Coordination Center.

 

Michael Smith

“I am proud to be of service to all the men and women who have served our country.”

Michael Smith is a US Navy veteran who served for eight years with an Honorable Discharge. He was a Communications specialist aboard the USS Midway CV-41 stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, the USS Fresno LST-1182 stationed in San Diego, California, the USS John Young DD-973 stationed in San Diego, California, and lastly Military Sealift Command stationed in Oakland, California. Michael joined the Illinois Joining Forces coordination center team in early February 2016.


Both staff members are able to work with Illinois Joining Forces through a partnership with The Chicago Lighthouse, a world-renowned organization serving the blind, visually impaired, disabled and Veteran communities. The efforts of this organization would not be possible without the generous support of The Boeing Company.

Mike and Will shared more about their time working with IJF and their opinions on the unique services that IJF is able to provide through the Coordination Center. Mike believes that the Coordination Center’s greatest strength is

“Human touch – especially in this world now where everything is automated, it’s great that we put a live person on the other end of the line. I can feel the veteran’s anxiety level drop when they call in and hear a real person on the other end who they can talk to and who has empathy for them.”

Will also added that another strength provided by the IJF Coordination Center is the extensive experience and knowledge that he and Mike have of so many of the organizations and resources that the veterans could potentially utilize:

“It’s better than veterans trying to go online and search for resources that they aren’t familiar with. It’s great that they get to talk to us because we have lots of experience meeting veteran’s unique needs.”

The Coordination Center staff are capable of handling an array of challenges and are trained in level-one crisis management. Most veteran inquiries center around homelessness, behavioral health, and unemployment challenges; however, IJF has task forces set up to aid veterans, in-service members, and their families in even more areas. These areas include education, and health care, legal and financial support, emergency assistance, family and survivor assistance, veteran recreation and volunteer programs.

Will considers the success stories the most rewarding part of working at the Coordination Center:

“While you can’t help everyone, we do have a lot of success stories. It’s always wonderful when someone calls in looking for housing or employment, and we’ve been able to meet that need.”

Mike agrees,

“For me, the altruistic aspect of the work is the most rewarding. There is always a void that is getting filled when you are helping people. This translates when people call us back to thank us, it’s very heartfelt and they feel a level of humanity through IJF that veterans don’t always get to feel. For a long time veterans have been put on a shelf, this is one way to give them back some of the pride they should feel about the military and their service.”

Will and Mike share a deep passion and great capacity for helping veterans. They can be reached at the Illinois Joining Forces Coordination Center at 1-877-236-7702.

Maker:S,Date:2017-12-7,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

New Leadership at IJF

The Illinois Joining Forces Foundation (IJF) Board of Directors recently announced the hiring of LTC Jaime Martinez (USA Retired) as the next Executive Director (ED) of the Illinois Joining Forces Foundation. Martinez was selected following a national search conducted by Chamberlain Advisors supported by the McCormick Foundation from a large pool of qualified candidates. He will be assuming the role following COL Andrew C. Dillon, USAR, who has successfully led IJF since assuming the Interim Executive Director responsibilities in March 2017.

COL Dillon came to IJF following successful military assignments and a civilian career in supply chain management, sales, and finance. “When I was approached to help during their transition period, I was incredibly honored,” said Dillon, “IJF is committed to helping and informing service members, veterans, and their families in Illinois.” Dillon credits many for the success of the organization, “from the IJF team, to our funders, to the Board, to the collaborative partners…everyone was dedicated to one mission, one purpose,” he said, “Serving those who have served.”

Dillon will assist Martinez during the transition period, something these two former Army commanders know so well. “It’s a left-seat/right-seat ride,” said Martinez, referring to the Army’s term for Change of Command procedures, “it will be an honor to lead the IJF Team.” The IJF Board of Directors recognized Dillon for his significant contributions. “Andrew guided IJF through a tough transition,” said Tom Miller, IJF Board Chair, “And he leaves the organization much better than he found it…and in capable hands.”

The incoming Executive Director, Jaime Martinez, is a U. S. Army veteran who served in the Infantry for 26 years and participated in numerous deployments with significant combat experience. He is already familiar with the mission of IJF, having formerly been the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs General Counsel who assisted in the development and implementation of IJF’s founding. In addition to his multiple front-line combat leadership positions, Martinez was assigned as a policy advisor to numerous senior level national security and defense policy makers and elected officials, to include: Staff Secretary to the Vice President, Military Assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense, Army Fellow to the US Senate Armed Services Committee, and Legislative Liaison to the Under Secretary of the Army. In 2010, Martinez returned home to Illinois to serve as an attorney and veteran advocate after his medical retirement from the Fort Belvoir Wounded Warrior Battalion. Since then his service to veterans includes Staff Attorney to the John Marshall Veterans Legal Support Center & Clinic, General Counsel to the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Senior Counsel to Student Veterans of America, and most recently as Program Manager for the CARPLS Veteran Project supporting the statewide Illinois Armed Forced Legal Aid Network.

As the IJF Executive Director, Martinez will provide leadership to maintain the strategic and day-to-day operational functions of the organization. “We are delighted to have Jaime Martinez stepping up

as the new IJF Executive Director and expect that he will lead IJF with the same professionalism that he has displayed throughout his career of service,” said Miller.

ABOUT ILLINOIS JOINING FORCES

The Illinois Joining Forces mission is to establish, maintain and nurture a state-wide public and private organizational network that will identify, collaborate, and marshal available resources, services and supports to create efficient access and delivery of these programs for Illinois’ military and veteran communities.

 

MILITARY RESOURCE RADIO WITH IJF OPERATIONS MANAGER LEN HARRIS (PART 4)

In this episode of Military Resource Radio, Len Harris – Operations Manager of Illinois Joining Forces and the host of Military Resource Radio – Tony Gatliff – finish up their 4-part interview and talk about Len’s passion for his work, and the partnership between BBMC Mortgage and Illinois Joining Forces. As well, Tony sits down with Gold Star Father, Kris Hager, who lost his son – Joshua – in combat in 2007. The pair discuss the recent news relating to Gold Star Families, the congresswoman from Florida, Donald Trump and Trump White House Chief of Staff and 4-Star Marine General John Kelly as it relates to this recent current event. This is a very timely episode of Military Resource Radio.

iTunes:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/military-resource-radio/id981569098?mt=2&i=1000394465987

SoundCloud:  https://soundcloud.com/militarymortgagetalk/110417-len-harris-of-illinois-joining-forces-part-4-and-gold-star-father-kris-hager

MILITARY RESOURCE RADIO WITH IJF OPERATIONS MANAGER LEN HARRIS (PART 3)

In this episode of Military Resource Radio, your host Tony Gatliff continues his conversation with Army veteran and Operations Manager for Illinois Joining Forces – Len Harris.  Len and Tony have a wide ranging conversation, including continuing their conversation about the band Blues Traveler from last week, Len’s transition out of the military to being a civilian, helping other veterans transition out of the military, the work ethic and drive of members of the military, the great work the folks at Illinois Joining Forces are doing and much more. 

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/military-resource-radio/id981569098?mt=2&i=1000394154503 

SoundCloud:  https://soundcloud.com/militarymortgagetalk/102817-len-harris-of-illinois-joining-forces-part-3

Military Resource Radio with IJF Operations Manager Len Harris (part 2)

In the second part of his four-part series with Len Harris of Illinois Joining Forces, the host of Military Resource Radio – Tony Gatliff – and his guest attack a variety of topics like Len’s 22 year military career, moving into teaching broadcasting to new recruits, Len’s experiences with the American Forces Network, traveling to many different countries for his career in the military, being over in Iraq during “The Surge”, the fact that Len is a master Foosball player, not to mention his experiences with former POTUS George W. Bush and John Popper of the band “Blues Traveler”.  

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/military-resource-radio/id981569098?mt=2&i=1000393909461 

SoundCloud:  https://soundcloud.com/militarymortgagetalk/102117-len-harris-of-illinois-joining-forces-part-2

Military Resource Radio with IJF Operations Manager Len Harris (part 1)

In this episode of Military Resource Radio, your host Tony Gatliff welcomes Len Harris – Operations Manager for Illinois Joining Forces.  Tony and Len dive deep on a bevy of subjects, including BBMC Mortgage’s Patriot’s Charity Initiative and their relationship with Illinois Joining Forces, Len’s upbringing in San Jose, his love for the theater and performing arts, his moves across the country to New York City and Omaha, how his job as a security guard started his career in the military in an unexpected way, becoming a broadcast journalist in the Army, being a morning radio host in Japan and much, much more… Don’t miss this entertaining episode of  Military Resource Radio!

 

iTunes:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/military-resource-radio/id981569098?mt=2&i=1000393582071  

SoundCloud:  https://soundcloud.com/militarymortgagetalk/101417-len-harris-of-illinois-joining-forces-part-1

 

Cycling Across America to Support Veterans

Tracy R. Sefcik and Martin J. Conlon are the founders of Cross Country Cycle for Vets.  This heady cycling adventure across the lower part of the U.S. is designed to raise money for veterans.  All donations will go to the Gary Sinise Foundation which creates and supports programs that entertain, inspire, and strengthen military and veteran communities.  Tracy is a U.S. Navy veteran, and she tells us a little about herself, and the story behind Cross Country Cycle for Vets.

Although I’m no longer in uniform, I still want to express my support for my fellow veterans and 1st Responders. I feel that once you have served in uniform, you are always in uniform.  You take that oath for life. I would do it all over again if I had too with no hesitation.

I grew up in New Lenox, IL, and after school I joined the U.S. Navy, and served for 4 years.  After bootcamp in Orlando, FL my first duty station was Yokosuka, Japan aboard the USS Kittanning.  I also served at Coronado, CA, working with the Navy Seal Team. I was then a Navy spouse for 15 years.

I also come from a very long line of military veterans.  Just to mention a few, a 4th great-grandfather in the Revolutionary War, a 2nd great-grandfather in the Civil War, an uncle shot down over France during WWII who later became missing in action during the Korean War (7 Nov 1950), and my father being in the Navy on the USS Courtney.

Now for my next chapter in my life, I will be cycling across the United States with Martin. We started biking a few years ago in which we will be making this journey together and will face many challenges while riding across from San Diego CA, to St Augustine, FL. Mostly that big mountain range getting out of CA

On March 2nd, 2018, Martin and I will begin our Cross Country Cycle 4 Vets journey.  The trip will take us over 3142 of our great country, from San Diego, CA to St Augustine, FL.  All money raised goes to support my fellow veterans and 1st Responders through the Gary Sinise Foundation. We will be starting our journey from the flight deck of the U.S.S. Midway.  This ship has special memories of my Navy days in Yokosuka, Japan.  A big “thank you” to the Navy for letting us start our journey aboard the Midway, since my Navy journey started waking up next to you in Japan when I was stationed on the USS Kittanning.  We will then be guided through the streets of San Diego by the Memorial Truck driven by Dane Kaimuloa, to Ocean Beach Park to dip our tires in the Pacific Ocean, then off we go on the start of our journey to Florida.  As we arrive in St Augustine, we will be guided in by the AmVets Freedom Riders to end our journey by dipping our tires in the Atlantic at St Augustine Beach on May 6th.

 

Both Martin and I felt we needed to do something to support our veterans.  We wanted to find any way to help them with the challenges that some undoubtedly face today.  This is our way of shining a light, and letting them know that they are appreciated for all they do for us… for their sacrifices and unwavering commitment to our Nation.

We would like to thank all our sponsors, endorsements, and everyone that has donated to Cross Country Cycle 4 Vets in support of the Gary Sinise Foundation. Let’s keep those donations coming so we can exceed our goal of $50,000.

Donations can be made on our website: http://www.crosscountrycycle4vets.com/

Follow us on Facebook / Instagram: crosscountrycycle4vets

Veterans Choice Program Law Changes

On April,19 2017, The President signed a law that removes the August 7, 2017 expiration date and allows VA to utilize funding dedicated to the Veterans Choice Program (VCP) until it is exhausted.

The VCP is a critical program that increases access to care for Veterans by authorizing millions of appointments for Veterans in the community.

The fact sheet below highlights the three changes made to the VCP. You can also view the fact sheet by clicking this link: Choice Extension Fact Sheet FINAL

Choice Extension Fact Sheet FINAL_Page_1 Choice Extension Fact Sheet FINAL_Page_2

Veterans Groups Hope More Money Will Lead To Better Care

Some Illinois veterans groups want to know how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would spend the additional $4.4 million proposed in President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget.

The budget blueprint states the president wants “to improve patient access and timeliness of medical care” for the nine million veterans who use the system.

That’s good news for veterans like Lynn Lowder, CEO of 1 Veteran at a Time, an Aurora-based organization that promotes veteran entrepreneurship.

“Anything we can do to help the VA to do their job better is a good thing,” Lowder said. “But just because you are going to increase the budget by ‘X’ percent, doesn’t necessarily equate to a better form of healthcare.”

Lowder, a Vietnam War veteran and a retired lawyer, said he wants to know where the increased spending would go, and how it will be spent by the VA.

“It’s the quality of the healthcare, and the responsiveness of it, that makes an enormous difference to veterans,” Lowder said.

Lowder, 71, said getting access to care can be a challenge, and veterans often require help navigating the system.

It’s unclear how the VA will specifically use the added money if it is approved by Congress. A spokesman for the agency could not be reached for comment.

“I sincerely hope that a portion of the new funding is going to be designated to support programs for not just veterans but military families and the caregivers as well because they play an important part in the lives of the veterans, especially those who are recovering from injuries,” said Ken Barber, who is head of the Chicago-based nonprofit Illinois Joining Forces. The group works to connect veterans with services, including healthcare.

Barber, a Navy veteran, said he would welcome the funding boost because “veterans deserve the best care and support that this country can provide.”

“I think this funding will result in more resources being available to veterans within their community. That means resources like Illinois Joining Forces are more important that ever,” Barber said. “Illinois Joining Forces ensures that veterans can identify the resources that are available to meet their needs within their particular communities and helping them navigate the pool of all the resource providers out there. That’s going to be just as important as having funding behind those resources.”

Illinois is home to more than 700,000 veterans, according to the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs.

To see the original article, please follow this link.

Member Org Spotlight: Lewis University

IJF supports and uplifts our member organizations, and this includes highlighting the important and innovative work they are doing every day. We will be profiling member organizations on our blog through an ongoing series. We hope to inspire conversation and connection between member organizations, the communities they serve, and anyone else who is passionate about ensuring no veteran, service member or a family member falls through the cracks.

Lewis University is a non-profit Catholic University located in Romeoville. More than 553 Lewis University students are Active Duty, Reserve, Cadet, and Family Members using G.I. Bill benefits or Veterans. Many of the students of Lewis University participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program. Funded through Lewis University and the Department of Veteran Affairs, this program provides 100 percent of student tuition expenses if they have 100 percent level of Post 9/11 entitlement. We recently spoke with Director of Veterans Affairs and Recruitment at Lewis University, Roman Ortega Jr., about how he works with student veterans to ensure success.

Tell us a little about yourself

I have been in the service for 18 years, served about 11 years on active duty in the U.S. Army and 7 in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Half of my time was in the infantry, and the other half was in military intelligence. I did deployment overseas in multiple capacities ranging from combat to humanitarian aid.

I got my master’s degree at Lewis University while on active duty in the U.S. Army.

 What is your philosophy behind how you provide services to students?

I try to focus on a wraparound service model: Social, Academic, Financial, Community, and Career. Many veterans transitioning out of the military want to go to school and then move back into careers. We have a team of 11 of us that strive to do the best in providing support during a potentially challenging transition.

What does wrap-around service model mean?

We help them with the most fundamental questions regarding admission and application process, we assist them to get registered, we enable access to benefits while in school. We also provide support through a student veteran group and a Vet Ally program which helps faculty and staff support veteran students. Then we empower them with employment opportunities to make sure they are set up for success upon graduation.

Can you tell us about any advantages student veterans have?

On average, student veterans tend to have a slightly higher graduation rate than civilians at Lewis. They tend to do well academically and in leadership roles at the University. The retention and persistence rate at Lewis University is over 80 percent for our student veterans, which is well above the national average for higher education. Their loan and debt rate are also very low which means they are graduating with less financial burden.

What about any unique challenges student veterans face?

We have student veterans who have families. They are typically married. They often have a part-time job or full-time job. They have got a lot to balance. They are very cognizant of their time, and what they are going to do with that time. Sometimes this equates to less participation in campus activities comparatively speaking to the traditional student. That is the biggest challenge.

Thank you to Roman Ortega for speaking with us! Check out Lewis University on their website, Facebook, or Twitter.