On November 13th - November 19th, 2019, SACIV welcomed six international visitors from Ukraine for an IVLP project entitled “Military Veteran Support & Advocacy." As San Antonio is well recognized as “Military City, USA”, we arranged a vast number of meetings to highlight the ways and approaches of supporting military veterans. These meetings helped the group increase their understanding of the development and management of rehabilitation and reintegration processes, especially those dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
On Thursday morning, our visitors met with representatives of Greater San Antonio’s Chamber of Commerce’s Military Affairs Council, a committee which focuses on building ties between the business community and local military organizations; supporting the many military missions accomplished in San Antonio; and providing support for service members, retirees, and their families. Mr. Dave Petersen, Chamber Executive Vice President, and Ms. Lori Stinson, Vice President, Military Affairs & Leadership Development, talked about the Council’s work to promote and enhance military-local business and community relations, as well as conduct programs, events, & initiatives to celebrate, support, maintain, and grow the military presence in San Antonio, though key engagement programs like the Chamber Liaison Program, the Senior Enlisted Advisor Committee the Woman to Woman, Leader to Leader Committee, the Celebrate America’s Military Committee, and the Military Transformation Task Force. This meeting illustrated a unique program that supports the business efforts of the veteran community.
Later that day, our guests met with the Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 76, a local non-profit service organization for US military veterans’ benefits and programs, located in a historic building along the Riverwalk. The delegation learned about the ways how this membership veterans’ organization advocates for the rights and services of veterans. They also discussed the local chapter’s advocacy efforts and touch on the activities that the Veterans of Foreign Wars has been doing to particularly support women veterans.
In the afternoon, the Ukrainian delegation headed to the City of San Antonio’s Office of Military Affairs, which provides services to local veterans and their families and includes a Veteran’s Affairs Commission, the Military Transformation Task Force, and the Military Economic Impact Study. The group learned about many of the military-related organizations in San Antonio, about their partnership with Joint Base San Antonio to support the base’s military readiness. The representatives at this office described the services that local government provides to veterans. This group also discussed the city’s unique relationship with the many military installations in the region which led to the city being branded as “Military City, USA”.
On Friday morning, the delegation took part in an interactive roundtable discussion to explore various perspectives on the mental health challenges that many veterans face such as PTSD. Mr. Gilbert Gonzalez, Director of the Bexar County Mental Health Department, Dr. Alan L. Peterson, Professor and Chair at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Dr. Chrys L. Parker, Author, Professor and Director, joined this discussion panel to share their experiences and highlight projects, initiatives, and experiential programs of PTSD intervention in the combat theater and the homeland in San Antonio and throughout the US. This meeting demonstrated the best practices in development and management of rehabilitation and reintegration centers.
In the afternoon, the group had an interactive tour with staff and students of San Antonio Colleges’s Victory Center, a new veterans affairs building on the San Antonio College campus, which was designed to better serve veterans and help them into the classroom. Annually, SAC serves more than 3,000 student veterans and has been designated a Military Friendly School for several consecutive years. There, they learned about a local community college approach to serving veterans and making education accessible.
On Saturday evening, our guest experienced Texan hospitality and met with the members of SACIV in a friendly environment. Some of the guests were welcomed to the early Thanksgiving Dinner where they learned about the history and culture of South Texas. On Sunday the IVLP delegation had an outing to the beautiful surrounding of Texas “Hill Country”, which is one of the most popular regions in the Lone Star State for visitors. Among the rolling hills and between expansive rivers they found a number of quaint cities and small towns which offered our visitors the opportunity to explore some of the diverse cultures of Texas through a variety of unique attractions.
On Monday morning, the Ukrainian delegation visited the Brooke Army Medical Center, the United States Army's premier medical institution. Located on Fort Sam Houston, BAMC, an Academic Medical Center, is the Department of Defense's largest facility and only Level 1 Trauma Center. Our guests learned about the Center for the Intrepid, the nation’s top rehabilitation center for OIF/OEF casualties who have sustained amputation, burns, or functional limb loss. They also had an informative tour of the facilities and discussed cutting edge rehabilitation techniques for veterans, particularly those needing prosthetic or orthopedic assistance. After the tour, the delegation met with the representative of the Warrior & Family Support Center and they learned about how the center provides coordinated services to patients, next-of-kin, and extended family members with a primary focus on wounded Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom warriors. The conversation highlighted services that provide spiritual support, as well as ways that active duty military are helped to prepare for transition into civilian life after they leave the service.
Next, our guests met with representatives of the Bexar County Veterans Service Office (VSO), an advocacy agency that assists veterans and their dependents to understand and receive benefits available to them through the US Department of Veterans Affairs. They also learned about the ongoing collaboration with local, state, and federal government agencies, nationally chartered Veterans service organizations, and non-profit agencies to assist clients in obtaining needed specialized services. Through this meeting, participants of this program asked questions about the ways the VSO helps veterans navigate an often complex system and to explored the range of services offered.
Overall, the group found the visit to San Antonio very supportive of their project objectives and appreciated the opportunity to meet with partners, to see the centers in action, and to ask questions of the professionals who are dedicated to this important work. The visitors were particularly amazed with the work of several non-government organizations, as most of their work is done by volunteers and through donations from the community, concepts not common (yet) in Ukraine. The visit made a significant impact on the visitors and their exchange experience. We greatly appreciate each partner, organization, and representative of San Antonio’s community for collaboration and partnership in our mission. #ExchangeMatters