Foundations have been slow to respond to the growing needs of the men and women who have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families, said speakers at a session Monday of the Council on Foundations.
One reason is that so few Americans—including those who work at foundations and charities—have a connection to service members.
But grant makers could find much to do to support military families, many of whom struggle under the crushing weight of problems that result from multiple deployments such as broken marriages, domestic abuse, unemployment, mental-health issues, and, increasingly, suicide.
Unlike service members in past wars, this generation’s veterans are less inclined to seek help through formal channels like the Department of Defense or Veterans Affairs and instead go online to seek information from other sources, said Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
That makes it tough for both government and nonprofits to keep track of those who need help, he said.
“The one question funders do not ask enough [of grant seekers] is, Can you find veterans?” said. Mr. Rieckhoff.
Once they find people in need, nonprofits and grant makers must devise smart ways to help and to avoid the kinds of events some organizations now run.
“New vets are not going to want to go to some kind of national PTSD day. We do things like family days, a marathon, film screenings, a baseball game,” he said. “They don’t want to sit around talking about being vets all the time. They want to engage with the community.”
Another challenge is the lack of good data on how much foundation money goes to help veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families, said Steven Lawrence, senior director of research at the Foundation Center. Many grant makers may support a mental-health or housing program that help veterans but also help others—so the money doesn’t get reported as aid to people who have served in wars.
What is needed, said Mr. Lawrence, is for foundations and charities alike to improve the way they report on their giving and programs.
“Data can really help foundations to tell this story,” he said, but grant makers need to get better at supplying those data.
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