With the war in Iraq over and America’s long engagement in Afghanistan coming to a close, philanthropic investments in nonprofit organizations seeking to address the needs of returning service members and their families moved front and center in 2012, continuing a decade-long trend. But even with veterans issues getting more attention, thanks in part to 2012 Charles Bronfman Prize winner Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL and founder of The Mission Continues, concerns grew over insufficient coordination in an increasingly crowded field.
Initiatives announced during the year in support of veterans and military families sought to address a range of issues, from employment and housing, to mental health and wellness, to access to higher education. In April, for example, the University of Southern California received a $10 million gift from alumnus and board trustee William J. Schoen and his wife, Sharon, to provide scholarships to veterans enrolled at USC's Marshall School of Business and Viterbi School of Engineering. In May, the Robin Hood Foundation, in partnership with the White House and the New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, announced an initiative to provide job placement services to returning service personnel in the city, where veterans make up 20 percent of homeless adults. In a similar vein, the Walmart Foundation awarded $1 million to Goodwill Industries and $750,000 to Swords to Plowshares, a community-based organization that provides wrap-around care to more than two thousand veterans in the San Francisco Bay Area, in support of efforts to help veterans secure employment and long-term financial stability.
The year also saw the launch of several major campaigns in support of veterans. They included a $100 million initiative announced by the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund in June to build Centers of Excellence at nine military bases to provide state-of-the-art treatment for service members living with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress. In July, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America launched a Veteran Support Fund with the goal of challenging Americans -- especially non-military families -- to donate $30 million in support of critical nonprofit programs and resources benefiting veterans and their families. And toward the end of the year, the Invictus Foundation launched the Welcome Home Network with the goal of recruiting and educating volunteer psychologists to help address the unmet mental and behavioral health needs of veterans and their families, while the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation awarded nearly $3 million in grants through its Mental Health & Well-Being initiative to help address the mental health needs of returning veterans.
Providing housing for homeless veterans and/or renovating housing for veterans and their families was another area that received significant philanthropic support in 2012. In September, the Home Depot Foundation announced it was committing an additional $50 million over three years in support of veterans' housing initiatives as part of its second annual Celebration of Service campaign, while in October MetLife announced a $40.5 million partnership with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation to provide veterans and their families with access to affordable housing, health care, and job placement services.
Indeed, the need for comprehensive wrap-around veterans services linking education, employment, healthcare, housing, and other assistance emerged as an important theme in 2012, as foundations and their nonprofit partners found that the success of efforts to address one set of needs often was linked to the efforts of groups working to address a different set of needs. At the same time, the proliferation of small nonprofits working in specific areas without coordination raised concerns about duplication and increased competition for limited grant dollars. According to Foundation Center data, giving to military and veterans groups has almost tripled since 2001, while the Urban Institute reports that more than seventy-eight hundred nonprofits working to provide services to veterans and their families have registered with the IRS over the last decade. However, veterans advocates and nonprofit leaders told the New York Times that charitable donations have not kept pace with the growing number of veterans in need of services -- a number likely to increase as U.S. operations in Afghanistan are wound down over the next two years -- and may even begin to decline as a conflict-weary American public focuses its attention elsewhere.
The large number of new entrants in an already overcrowded field also creates confusion for would-be donors. Indeed, only a handful of organizations, including Blue Star Families, Homes for Our Troops, the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, Operation Homefront, the Semper Fi Fund, and the Wounded Warrior Project, have managed to become national organizations with multimillion-dollar budgets. And even that's not a guarantee of success. "We expect 2013 and 2014 to be tough years in [terms of] fundraising," said Amy Palmer, chief programs and field operations officer for Operation Homefront. "If we were asked to start Operation Homefront today, I wouldn't do it. There are too many people in this space."
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