When Toya Harris left the Air Force after about seven years of service, she didn’t feel like she had the guidance to properly transition back into civilian life.
“Once I got out, I wasn’t given a lot of direction,” Harris said. “They tried to cram it into one meeting called transition assistance. They give you a lot of information at one time and that’s it.”
It wasn’t until about eight years after she left the military that she figured out how to file a claim to receive disability. Then, she realized she wasn’t alone.
According to the Pew Research Center, finding resources after the military and transitioning back to society is difficult for more than a quarter of veterans. That number goes up to nearly 50% for veterans with combat experience, PTSD or other traumatic military experiences.
Many veterans have difficulty transitioning into civilian life because in the military, services like insurance, doctors, housing and dentists are all provided. In the military, you have little choice about when you eat, where you eat and how you dress.
So, the vast number of choices in the civilian world can also be overwhelming for many veterans exiting the military and starting their lives again. In addition, many leave the military without a job, without knowing where they are going to live or without understanding how much a housing deposit might cost.
“Four years, eight years, 20 years, however long you’re in the military, everything is structured. Then all of a sudden, you detach from that life and you’re like, ‘now what?’ They program you. You’re programmed and then you’re on your own,” Harris said. “That’s why a lot of our vets end up homeless or end up abusing substances because they don’t have that direction once they’ve gotten out.”
PROVIDING 4 OUR VETS
After Harris started working with a local nonprofit to support homeless veterans, she became more aware of resources for veterans and began helping friends and family leaving the military transition smoothly.
“It was coming to the surface that a lot of veterans were not aware, just like me, of the things that were available to us,” she said. Since 2015, she has helped about 25 veterans to receive full disability, housing, employment and transportation, which are some of the biggest challenges transitioning veterans face.
Harris named her organization Providing 4 Our Vets (P4OV) back in 2015, but officially registered it as a nonprofit this year. She also helps veterans acquire college benefits, with resume writing, filing for health insurance and even giving general advice on transitioning.
P4OV offers services to veterans of all branches of the military, including those who may have been dishonorably discharged.
“A lot of organizations won’t help those with a dishonorable discharge, but I don’t care what your discharge is because I know people who were discharged under less than honorable or dishonorable and they’re really good people. They just made some mistakes and I don’t want to limit them because there are options,” she said.
Harris hopes she can find a way to contact veterans as they are leaving the military and reach out to them a few months down the road to see if they need services to prevent any issues before they occur.
“I’ve seen too many signs on the corner that say, ‘I’m a veteran and need help,’” Harris said. “The tiny homes are great, but what else can we do?” queried Harris. “I say, bridging that gap as soon as they’re getting out (of the military) and figuring out how I can help you through that transition, because I don’t want to see anybody on the corner with a sign.”
To learn more about P4OV and see a list of services, visit their website: www.p4ov.org.
To donate, visit P4OV’s Pay Pal link: www.paypal.com/paypalme/p4ovets.