Member Org Spotlight: National Able Network

IJF is committed to supporting and uplifting 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 service members, veterans, or families fall through the cracks.

National Able Network is a 501c3 nonprofit based in Chicago that helps job seekers secure employment. Veterans Forward is National Able’s veteran focused career development program which provides career coaching and connections to employers. All career coaches at Veterans Forward are veterans themselves. We recently sat down with one of their career coaches, Kat Schaeffer, to discuss everything from the art of translation to power plants. Curious? Keep reading!

 Would you like to tell us about your time in the military?

I served five years in the Marine Corps, I was F/A-18 Ejection Seat Mechanic, which has nothing to do with career coaching.

 What is special about veterans helping other veterans find employment?

We have a little bit of camaraderie and trust there. It makes it work a little better. They know we very likely understand their experience. We can speak the same language.

 What do you mean same language?

When they say I worked in an S3 shop, I know what that means. Whereas if they told a civilian I work in an S3 shop…they would have no idea.

 Do you have any other examples of these two languages?

I had a client today that said he wanted to work in power plants because he worked in power plants in the military. In the military, power plants is a position where you are working on engines or fuel cells for equipment whether it is a ship or a truck. As a civilian a power plant is a big facility that produces energy for a city, for example.

So what did you tell this client?

I had to explain to him that you can’t walk up to a civilian employer and say you want to work in power plants because they don’t understand that you want to work on engines. So it’s having that ability to actually translate things, to say this is the civilian word for the military word that you’re using.

 What is a common misconception people have about veteran job seekers?

The biggest thing I want civilian employers, and civilians in general to know is that the veteran experience, the military experience, is not much different than the civilian experience. There is just this one time in their life that was very different culturally than what most civilians have ever experienced, but work experience is work experience. Veterans have real world work experience from the military that can easily be applied to the civilian workforce. We aren’t functioning in a different world while in the military. The uniform is different and the mission is different but the skills are the same and veterans have a couple years to a couple decades of experience putting those skills to work in real scenarios. I think so many civilians have a big stumbling block when it comes to understanding how military work experience relates to the civilian workforce, it seems that they often don’t understand the military experience and might feel a little unsure of how to come to understand it, it shuts off any progress in that relationship. The important thing to remember is that military work experience is just as relevant in the civilian workforce as civilian work experience.

 Is the job search for a veteran really that different than the job search for a civilian?

I think 70% of the veteran job seeker experience is no different than the civilian job seeker experience.

 How often does the military come up when you are working with a veteran to find civilian employment?

Occasionally the military comes up when we are trying to translate those skills. Mostly we are trying to help them describe their military skills in ways that civilians will understand and value.

 Any exciting things coming up at Veterans Forward?

Veterans Forward is launching an online platform called Mission Forward that will make our job search training available to Veterans nationwide! We have a launch party on November 18 at the Chicago Cultural Center.  We are looking for support for our event from individual and corporate sponsors. We will be inviting press as well as veterans currently in job search, so this is a great way to showcase a company’s commitment to the military community. Register for the event here!

Thank you to Kat for chatting with us! Check National Able out on their website, on Facebook, or on Twitter

Are you a member org that would like to take the spotlight on the IJF blog? Let’s chat! Email


Member Org Spotlight: Code Platoon

IJF is committed to supporting and uplifting 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 assuring no veteran, service member, or family member falls through the cracks.

Code Platoon is a member organization of IJF that trains veterans to be software developers. We recently asked Founder and Executive Director Rodrigo Levy a few questions about how exactly Code Platoon prepares veterans for this transition from service members to software specialists.

IJF: What does Code Platoon do?

Rod: Code Platoon is a nonprofit organization that trains veterans to become professional software developers. We are helping motivated veterans learn a skillset for a profession that pays well, has growing demand, and has tremendous opportunity for growth. We do this in a way that is extremely affordable for veterans, by giving $10,500 scholarships to our program.

What makes Code Platoon unique?

Code Platoon is a “coding boot camp.” The best coding boot camps, like Code Platoon, teach modern technologies, and are deeply immersive. Students are working around 70 hours a week, over 14 weeks, so around 1,000 total hours of work. What separates us is that we only admit veterans.

Can you tell us more about the support you provide veterans while they go through this boot camp?

As I mentioned, all admitted veterans get $10,500 scholarships. We also provide a strong network to support our students with veteran mentors and veteran-oriented support services, including several organizations through IJF, like Road Home.

Are there any misconceptions about veterans that you have encountered through your work?

A misconception I have seen from both veterans and non-veterans is that veterans are not suited for programming jobs, for whatever reason. Obviously, we are attacking this misconception head-on.

What has been something over the last couple months that made you smile?

A couple weeks ago, our first graduate received and accepted a full-time job as a software developer, at one of our sponsor companies.


Thank you to Code Platoon for being the first member organization to chat with us! Check out Code Platoon on their website, Facebook, or Twitter.




Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Patriot Awards

The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs is accepting applications for the Patriot Awards and the Parade for Veterans’ Day at the Illinois State Fair. We are looking to acknowledge a veteran and a small-business/organization that has gone above and beyond the call of duty to help veterans in Illinois. We are doing this with two very special awards.

The Illinois Veterans’ Patriotic Volunteer and Appreciation Award highlights and honor the work of an Illinois veteran whose contributions in service to the veteran community and their local communities are truly above and beyond. Nominees are evaluated on the basis of their leadership, dedication, innovation, and impact in serving these communities. Award recipients are those whose efforts add to the powerful narrative that veterans are dedicated, Life-long servants whose efforts benefit all of Illinois veteran communities.

The Illinois Veterans’ Business Appreciation Award highlights and honors the work of any business or organization in Illinois that has significantly helped veterans, and whose contributions to those who have served our country are documented and deserve to be recognized. This award is designed to highlight and honor those businesses or organizations

This is a tremendous opportunity to recognize the selfless individuals who have put their lives on the line for this nation and continued to serve when they returned home. Don’t let it pass by! Winners will be presented their award August 14, 2016 at the State Fair in Springfield. The application deadline is July 29, 2016. Please click on the following link for the criteria for consideration and the applications.

Lastly, we are looking for organizations who want to march in the parade that concludes the day at the State Fair on August 14, 2016. This is a great opportunity to show support for the veterans of Illinois and/or show your pride for your own service. If you have interest in participating please fill out the form found here<> by August 5, 2016.  Parade line up will begin at 4:00pm and the parade will kick off at 5:00pm promptly.

Please disseminate this information to anyone you think would be interested. Thank you all for everything you do for those who have given so much.

First Annual She Served Conference: Recap

Last Tuesday, May 10th, the Illinois Joining Forces Women Veterans Working Group held their first annual conference at Camp Lincoln in Springfield. The day featured lectures, panel discussions, and more from subject matter experts as well as Women Veterans who shared their unique experiences serving.

Following a Military Culture 101 presentation from Meosha Thomas, Founder & CEO of One Savvy Veteran, the group heard about Post Traumatic Stress and Trauma in Women Veterans from Dr. John Mundt, Staff Psychologist at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center. Dr. Mundt shared his valuable perspective from over 30 years providing psychological services to veterans. Specifically, 3 of 5 female veterans have experienced assault while serving, and many others have experienced harassment and threats of sexual assault. These experiences of Military Sexual Trauma are more likely to lead to PTSD than combat trauma, and are crucially important issues for service providers to understand.


Dr. Mundt speaks to participants about the unique experiences of post traumatic stress in female veterans.

Dr. Mundt also highlighted some challenges that female veterans face while seeking services at the VA – namely, having a hard time receiving treatment in a heavily male VA, and facing sexual harassment from other veterans while at the VA. These challenges were later emphasized in a panel discussion on the importance of peer support for women veterans. The panel discussion featured Erica Jeffries, Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs; Marine Nelson, SSVF Team Leader at Thresholds; Meosha Thomas, Founder & CEO of One Savvy Veteran; Megan Everett, Director of Veterans’ Programs at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation; and Lisa Goodale, Vice President of Peer Services at Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Panelists agreed that peer support programs establish a built-in trust and rapport with someone who has shared experiences, and that such programs are a valuable aspect of psychological treatment options.

During the panel discussion, Megan Everett noted that peer support offers the “ability to have a real open conversation with someone who has already walked the walk.”

During the panel discussion, Megan Everett noted that peer support offers the “ability to have a real open conversation with someone who has already walked the walk.”

Additional afternoon breakout sessions focused on a wide variety of topics with respect to female veterans, including integrative medicine, culturally competent medical care, employment services, and homelessness and housing. The day also included time for networking with service providers across Illinois.

Last week’s conference was made possible by many of IJF’s valuable partners and member organizations, including the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, Health & Disability Advocates, Thresholds, Jesse Brown VA, and the Illinois National Guard. Thank you to everyone who made the inaugural She Served conference a success!

Written by Caitlin Hodes, IJF Program Analyst

48 Hours in Chicago for Active Duty Service Members

Coming up to Chicago for the weekend? As an active duty service member, there is a lot to take advantage of in the city for free or a fraction of the normal price! And with warmer temperatures right around the corner, there is no better time to explore all that Chicago has to offer. Here are some of our suggestions for how to make the most of your time in the Windy City:

–> Check out the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, then make your way through Millennium Park (make sure to stop for a picture with the Bean!). If you’re feeling active, pick up a Divvy bike at one of their many stations surrounding the park and ride along the Lakefront path for stellar views of the skyline.

–> Visit any of Chicago’s amazing museums, many of which offer free admission to active duty service members. Our favorites are the Field Museum and Art Institute! You can see a full list of military discounts in Chicago here.


–> Head North to Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the nation’s oldest zoos housing 1200 animals – find detailed directions here.

–> Check out the view from Willis Tower Skydeck, which is free for active duty military who show their ID to the cashier.


–> Hungry? Grab a slice of Chicago’s infamous deep dish pizza at Giordano’s or Lou Malnati’s.


–> Have a late night laugh at Chicago’s historical improve club The Second City, where active duty military can receive a free ticket to any show! We recommend the nightly Mainstage Revue. See a full list of shows here.

–> Any last minute gifts or shopping you need to get done? Look no further than the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue! With tons of stores to choose from, it won’t be hard to find that perfect gift for a special someone. Be sure to check out this list of stores offering military discounts beforehand!

–> Browse the Tickets for Troops website to see if there are any sporting events going on while you’re in town. You could score free tickets to see the Blackhawks, White Sox, Cubs, Bears, and more!

–> In the early decades of the twentieth century, Chicago’s fast-growing industries brought the city a great deal of wealth, along with an abundance of jazz music. Catch a live performance at the historic Kingston Mines.


The map below highlights many of the attractions we mentioned, and may give you ideas for more activities should your schedule allow it. And if you do take any of these tips, be sure to tag us in your social media posts (@ILJoiningForces). We can’t wait to see what you do!


Written by Caitlin Hodes, IJF Program Analyst

Illinois Task Force on Veterans’ Suicide

The Illinois 98th General Assembly concerned over the growing number of veterans who are committing suicide passed House Joint Resolution 91 creating the Task Force on Veterans’ Suicide to investigate the causes to and prevention of suicides among returning Illinois veterans.

According to a recent U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs study, 22 veterans commit suicide every day in this country. Veterans needing mental health support can call the crisis hotline 24/7 at 800-273-8255, press 1. Chatting is available online at or by texting 838255.

Task Force hearings are scheduled to take place across the State to focus on the mental health challenges facing veterans from all eras of service on the following dates and locations.

Monday, May 2 from 10 am – 2 pm at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, IL

Monday, May 16 from 10 am – 2 pm at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville, IL

Tuesday, June 14 from 10 am – 2 pm and 5-7 pm at College of Lake County in Grayslake, IL

Wednesday, June 15 from 10 am – 2 pm at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, IL

Thursday, June 16 from 10 am – 2 pm at Triton College in River Grove, IL

Members of the Task Force on Veterans’ Suicide include:

State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego)

State Sen. Tom Cullerton (D-Villa Park)

State Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Naperville)

Lieutenant Colonel Paul Schimpf, United States Marine Corps (Retired)

(Representing State Sen Christine Radogno (R-Lemont)

Secretary James T. Dimas, Illinois Department of Human Services

Lieutenant Commander Tom Miller, Medical Service Corps, U. S. Navy (Retired) Veteran Services Illinois Division of Mental Health

Greg Dooley, Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Lt. Col. Steve Foster, Illinois Army National Guard Deputy Command Chaplain

Jennifer Martin, Illinois Department of Public Health, and

Dr. Edward S. Landreth, PsyD. VISN 12 Mental Health Lead from the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago who will provide additional guidance on the Task Force.

“One veteran who believes that suicide is the only solution, is one too many,” Kifowit said. “No matter which branch a veteran has served in, we all live by the code to ‘never leave someone behind’. We are committed to not leaving these veterans behind and working together to help save lives.”

Kifowit and Cullerton collaborated to create the Task Force on Veterans’ Suicide. The Task Force will gather information from veterans, organizations and companies on how the state can more effectively meet the needs of the veteran community. This includes focusing on all aspects of a veteran’s support network, employment, and support for veterans’ families, and their time spent in combat.

“If we can find meaningful solutions through our work on this Task Force, not only are we healing our state and veterans, but we are going to have an impact throughout the nation,” Cullerton said. “We continue to hear alarming statistics on veteran suicide rates. Our mission is clear: we need to bring the statistic to zero veteran suicides a day.”

Kifowit and Cullerton were joined at the press conference announcing the hearings by the Chairperson of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee State Representative Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora), USMC Veteran Captain Alexandra Stokman Brackett from Peoria, IL and Army Veteran Sergeant Will Attig from Carbondale, IL.

“My hope is that through this Task Force we can make genuine strides in assisting veterans and helping save lives,” Chapa LaVia said. “As the Chair of the Veterans’ Committee, I look forward to working with Representative Kifowit and Senator Cullerton and the members of the Task Force on finding ways we can meet our obligations to those who have sacrificed so much for our nation.”

For more information on the Task Force, please contact Kifowit’s office at 217-782-8028.

If you cannot attend a taskforce meeting, but would like to share your experiences please submit it below.

Recap: IJF Reboot Summit 2015

Written by: Megan Hammond, Senior Communications Specialist at National Able Network

Illinois Joining Forces: Re-Boot Summit 2015

On Thursday, Dec. 10, Illinois Joining Forces (IJF) hosted its 2015 Re-Boot Summit for a group of organizations and individuals that contribute to veterans philanthropy throughout Illinois. The Re-Boot Summit was appropriately held at the Union League Club of Chicago which is where IJF was founded in 2012.


Since its formation three years ago, the mission of IJF remains the same: Collaborating in person and online to help service members, veterans, and their families identify and marshal resources and services available to them throughout the state. IJF is a community of veterans service organizations that provide a multitude of services including housing, healthcare, employment, legal, financial, spouse and family support and more!


Throughout the Re-Boot Summit, there was a lot of discussion around veteran services organizations’ camaraderie and thoughts and ideas about what they can do to better serve the ever-changing landscape of Illinois’s veteran population and their families. Another main theme of the summit was the idea of “re-booting.” IJF recently re-booted its entire website to make it more comprehensive and easy-to-use for both organizations and veterans which will be fully launched by next week. IJF has also re-booted its approach to serving veterans by acknowledging goals of member organizations, determining the on-going needs of veterans and their families, developing new partnerships, collaborating with public partners, and expanding their outreach throughout Illinois!


To learn more about IJF’s services for veterans, please click here to visit their new website!


Our National Guard’s Role – Ombudsman

Every state has a National Guard – as does the Virgin Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The National Guard traces its roots to the colonial militias. Those militias were the first to fight the British and later the rebels. They bought time until the Army could be increased.

The militias were poorly funded and there were always questions of control in the field. They were abolished and the National Guard was created at the beginning of the 20th century. The national Guard did not fare much better than the militias – historically criticized for being part-time volunteers who are poorly trained, poorly funded, and under equipped. They comprised a big part of troops in World War I and World War II. National Guard units were among some of the first to meet the enemy in those wars. Again, they bought time while the Army was increased.

The role of the National Guard changed at the end of the 20th century when the Guard transformed from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve. The Illinois National Guard deployment of a Brigade Combat Team to Afghanistan in 2008-2009 is an example of the transformation. The question is no longer “if you’re going to deploy” the question is “where are you going to deploy.”

Guard members are citizen soldiers that deploy and then return to their communities, families and civilian employment. The Uniformed Servicemember Employment and Re-employment Rights Act is the law that protects the employment rights of Guard and Reserve members. USRERRA is considered to be the most comprehensive civil rights legislation enacted in the country. However, because only .5% of Americans serve in the Guard or Reserve, it was not tested in the courts – until after all the post-9/11 deployments in the Global War on Terror.

The state Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Committee is charged with protecting the employment rights of Guard and Reserve members.   Funded by the DOD, ESGR has existed since the early 1970s, and is staffed mostly by volunteers. The local ESGR committee exists to educate employers about the USERRA law and resolve servicemember employment complaints. Complaint resolution is handled through ESGR’s Ombudsman Program – designed to resolve complaints through an informal and non-binding mediation program.

The National Guard has adapted to the changes in the military’s use of the Guard and Reserve. However, ESGR has not adapted to the new role of the Guard. The Ombudsman Program has few specific criteria for who can be an Ombudsman – no background in law, HR, labor relations or collective bargaining is required. Further, the USERRA law is technical and dense – regularly confusing attorneys and HR professionals alike. Moreover, valid dispute resolution training takes from 25 to 40 hours. ESGR crams legal training and dispute resolution into three days.

Illinois ESGR is lucky to have some talented volunteers with legal, HR and collective bargaining backgrounds. An Illinois servicemember with an employment issue might get one of the skilled ESGR volunteers – or they may get one whose only exposure has been the substandard training.   Our Guard and Reserve members leave their civilian employment to serve their country. If they have a workplace dispute due to their military service, is it fair to leave those disputes to a group of well-intentioned but poorly trained volunteers?

How to change the situation? Encourage those with the appropriate skill to volunteer as an Ombudsman at

Brian Clauss is the Executive Director of The John Marshall Law School Veterans Legal Support Center & Clinic in Chicago.

Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Transitioning Veterans

Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Transitioning Veterans

According to the Veterans Administration there are about 721,000 veterans in Illinois.[1] While there is a breadth of governmental, public, and private resources available to those veterans upon leaving the military and transitioning to civilian life, over 50% of veterans nationwide report that they do not know where to go to seek help.[2]

Amidst all of the challenges veterans face upon this transition, arguably the most harmful are those associated with mental health. Rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Depression have increased in recent years – post-9/11 veterans were more likely to screen positive for PTSD and Depression than pre-9/11 veterans.2 A crucial gap exists during the time of transition. According to “The State of the American Veteran” published by USC School of Social Work, many veterans felt fine mentally upon leaving the military, however, about a month after returning, realized that they had significant issues for which they need help.

During this time period, it is critical that our veterans have a strong support network and can easily access any resources they might need. No matter how severe their mental health problems might be or what specific mental health issues they are facing, a returning veteran must be able to be connected with an organization uniquely capable of best serving them. Currently, this process can be overwhelming, frustrating, and ultimately unsuccessful. A considerable amount (44.1%) of post 9/11 veterans who screened positive for mental health problems did not seek help.2 This is likely due to a combination of mental health stigmatization and significant barriers to care.

There is a myth that most in the military community and veterans obtain healthcare services in closed systems i.e., military medicine or the VA.   While the Veterans Health Administration has taken significant steps to address access issues, service gaps continue to exist. Additionally, several studies of civilian community providers have shown that they are not prepared to treat returning veterans with the clinical cultural competence necessary to be sensitive to the unique experience of military service. That’s where Illinois Joining Forces (IJF) comes in. We are the single entry point for veterans transitioning to civilian life, helping them to overcome such barriers and lead the healthy life they so richly deserve. Further, we facilitate the training of providers in Military and Veteran Clinical Cultural Competency through our workshops and advocacy. Additionally, the Behavioral Health Working Group has a number of initiatives underway to address suicide prevention, substance abuse, and access to care.

The road ahead for IJF is exciting. We believe that any veteran returning to Illinois should be able to get the help they need in any of 9 issue areas – one of which is behavioral health. Service members and veterans should not have to go from office to office, form to form, or website to website to be served. This is a systematic problem that demands a local solution, a solution that IJF is bringing to the problem. Through the relationships of our Behavioral Health Working Group members and our online portal, IJF brings focus to comprehensive, long-term case management and follow up with each veteran. We hope that you will join us in creating the strongest possible network of service providers to our Nation’s veterans.

Credits: Tom Miller is the Chairman of the IJF Behavioral Health Working Group

[1] “Veteran Population.” United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 2014. Web. 02 Dec. 2015. <>.

[2] Castro, Carl Andrew, Sara Kintzle, and Anthony Hassan. “THE STATE OF THE AMERICAN VETERAN.”