"We have a large VA presence in the Chicago, and we're not trying to compete with them, but to exist as a complement to them; another resource and a support solution," he says. "One thing we know is that veterans get better as their families' needs are met. Outcomes can improve by as much as 30 percent to 40 percent, and so we'll try and look at a 'whole person, whole family' approach to treatment and employment assistance," he says. In some cases, Parent says, that approach may mean hiring not the veteran, but their spouse.
One particular veteran Parent mentions is so severely afflicted with PTSD that he's unable to commute, making finding and keeping a job nearly impossible. In situations like his, the Center's focus on veterans' families is crucial and can make a huge difference in quality of life, Parent says.
The Center will be funded through grant money and private gifts, and also benefits from the donations of IT vendor partners that have come on board to offer online training programs, job placement, and other valuable goods and services, Parent says.
Cisco, for example, is offering online CCNA training; Microsoft will offer training for its MCSE certification. Both Hitachi and NetApp will deliver online storage certification training, too, he says, all in the name of helping to make veterans competitive in the current IT jobs marketplace.
Overcoming the Recruiting Challenge
While in theory the idea behind the Center is solid, in practice, one of the greatest challenges will be identifying and recruiting veterans to participate, Parent says. A similar program pioneered at University of Massachusetts (UMass) opened with the expectation that veterans would be "pounding on the doors" for acceptance, but that didn't happen, Parent says.
Most veterans aren't aware that programs such as this exist, and above and beyond that, Parent says, there's a social stigma attached to asking for help from such programs. So, Parent says, the Rush University Center for Veterans and their Families will have to do a substantial amount of outreach and education to make sure the veteran population knows about the Center, he says.
"To overcome these roadblocks, outreach is going to be huge. It'll be like doing new business development; we'll have to partner with the medical professionals and the mental health and social work professionals already working with these veterans and help get the word out," Parent says.
"The lesson we took from the program at UMass is that you can't just 'build it and they will come,' you have to work within the existing infrastructure, and gently push these guys toward services and programs that can help them," he says.