In January 2015, Monica at Operation Troop Appreciation in Pittsburgh, PA received a phone call from a sheriff looking for help. He had been called to a local veteran’s home. The sheriff was met at the door by a distraught wife pleading for help for her husband and father of her four children. Dave had returned recently from Iraq and was frozen in the basement in the fetal position. He had suffered a traumatic brain injury while in combat and was now battling post-traumatic stress disorder, unable to engage with his family, work to support his children, or even seek the assistance he so desperately needed. This sheriff was a veteran and he knew his friend Monica could help, so he placed that critical call.
From spreadsheets to sustainability
Operation Troop Appreciation (OTA) is a community-based organization (CBO) dedicated to supporting US troops at home and abroad through their Active Duty Wishlist program and Veteran Welcome Home program. Since 2004, they have served over 185,000 deployed troops and veterans globally. Locally based in Pittsburgh, PA they are a part of the Unite Us-poweredPAServesnetwork established in 2015. Monica is part of a 50 person all-volunteer charity, with four volunteers dedicated to the Welcome Home program. Before joining the PAServes network, they were averaging 60-80 phone and email referrals a month. The team of volunteers would spend their evenings making calls at night, after their day jobs, to piece together missing information and get veterans the help they needed - all tracked on excel spreadsheets. A clearly unsustainable model, Monica says of using Unite Us,
“Within a week, I saw 80% of my spreadsheets go out the window! With all those hours back in our week, we could return to a focus on our mission and not on administering the intake. I get all the information I need in that referral, all the information for the case manager, a place for notes, and everything is all in one place.”
Since operating on the PAServes network, OTA has served over 5,000 veterans in Western Pennsylvania, through their Veteran Welcome Home program offering beds, welcome home kits, and transportation services. With the administrative efficiencies created on the platform, stronger community connections through the network, and ability to see through network data they are filling a critical gap in veteran support in their community, the team at OTA is confident their services have impact. In fact, 88% of veterans served by OTA report being in "stable, good, or thriving" status 6-18 months after their service episode.
Prior to PAServes, everybody was out doing their own thing. We might occasionally communicate with other CBOs, but we weren’t working together collaboratively. If a veteran needed housing assistance they would go to two agencies, if they need other services, they would be sent to additional agencies. Each time, we would start all over again with this poor veteran who has already given his information two or three times. What happens now is that we meet with all the other network partners, train their case managers, and they know what we do, they see what we do. The strength of the network is not just on the platform, it’s the collaboration that happens on the ground.
– Monica Orluk, President and CEO Operation Troop Appreciation
A coordinated response leads to sustained success
When Monica received the call about Dave, she knew exactly what to do. Acting quickly, she took all the information from her friend, the sheriff, and contacted Dave to set up a profile for him on the Unite Us platform. Within days, Dave had been connected to several agencies able to support his direct needs including the medical care he needed, basic needs for his family, housing assistance, and a year of transportation from OTA. Dave had been walking 10 miles each day to get to and from his college program. OTA’s transportation program matches veterans with veteran drivers through Vet Taxi, prioritizing the same driver-to-veteran match in an effort to create supportive relationships. Monica was able to follow Dave’s journey outside of what OTA could offer and ensure he was receiving all the services he needed through the PAServes network. A coordinated care network powered by the Unite Us platform ensured Dave’s sustained success to this day. Five years later, Dave graduated from college with an accounting degree and a 4.0 GPA and is working full-time with all the right support in place to ensure his continued success.
"All of those resources came together because we were a part of this network and we knew how to identify what his needs were going to be and get him to the right services as quickly as possible."
If you’d like to learn more about Operation Troop Appreciation, please visit their website.