Guest column by Lauren Tedeschi | Joining the Philadelphian Consciousness: The Year of the Veteran




I n t his moment, the city of Philadelphia is home to 88,000 veterans. Philadelphia City Council enacted a resolution to declare 2014 as the “Year of the Veteran.” This declaration was proposed to underscore support for the veteran community, shed light on the adversities veterans face and understand the initiatives in place to address and support these needs.

Originally proposed by councilpersons David Oh, Mark Squilla and Jannie Blackwell, the unanimous support among all City Council members propelled the mission forward. The City of Brotherly Love becomes personified through this monumental moment for the veterans of Philadelphia, and presents a source of hope for the programs and policies of 2014. A unified response to this resolution paves the way for advocacy and understanding of the emerging needs of veterans .

The Year of the Veteran provides the framework for highlighting the progression of veteran services and enhancing societal awareness for the challenges they face. In my recent interview with Air Force veteran and Executive Director of the Veterans Multi-Service Center in Philadelphia Tim Meserve , he expressed principal factors to consider. “It is important for society to know when we send soldiers to war there are changes. We should not be afraid of these changes . Instead, we need to support them and provide vast resources,” he said . As our community zooms in on veteran needs, it is crucial to consider how these needs are changing as veterans from recent conflicts are returning home to their civilian soil. The recent veteran population is also an all-volunteer force . “If all volunteers are fighting our wars, they need to know they will be supported when they return home,” Meserve said .

As a social work intern at the VMC, I have the honor of working with men and women in the veteran community in need of supportive services. While working in the housing assistance program, I engage with a primarily homeless veteran population, a community that often falls within the shadows of policy and practice. This community exemplifies the power of shared experience as an unspoken bond between veterans, creating a forum for mutual understanding and hope. Veterans of the VMC community are eager to be heard by the ear of an individual with a genuine desire to support them. But there is more to be done.

The Year of the Veteran seeks to not only provide the language for underlining veteran accomplishments and obstacles, but to also unify the community through local events. The “One Book, One Philadelphia” program at the Philadelphia Free Library incorporated the Year of the Veteran into its mission to unite the community through literature. In 2014, the program highlights “The Yellow Birds” by Kevin Powers for Philadelphians to engage in a synchronized reading of a novel exploring the raw realities of war. On May 10 the VMC will host the “Bridge to Opportunity” 5k Run/Walk across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge on behalf of the veteran community. Significantly, the 2014 National Veteran Wheelchair Games will also take place in the heart of Philadelphia, supporting the Year of the Veteran and honoring hundreds of military veterans with physical or neurological disabilities. This event is free of charge and open to the public to bring the community together in support of our nation’s heroes.

The discourse has been established and City Council has embraced the resolution. The question remains: Why should this matter to everyone and not simply to those in the military? The livelihood of this resolution is contingent upon the support of the civilian community. This resolution cannot remain in an abstract place in our consciousness. Support must extend beyond those associated with the military and penetrate the missions of civilian organizations and the mindset of the community at large.

Veterans are entrepreneurs of their own stories with a rich history of experience to share and be learned. These men and women are our friends, leaders, colleagues, neighbors, fellow enthusiasts and also those in direct need of our support. As we embrace this resolution, we must consider how it applies to our everyday lives. To give life to the words behind this proclamation, we must engage in the conversation about veteran needs and take part in the community mission to support them. Make a proud moment of your 2014 be attending a veteran event. As Meserve significantly stated, “This proclamation is a tool for us to use. It is only a piece of paper until we apply it and make it special.”

Lauren Tedeschi  is a first-year student in the School of Social Policy & Practice. Her email address is lted@sp2.upenn.edu.

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