What do a historic smokehouse, a resume and a Vietnam veteran have in common? All three are connected through an organization called Still Serving Veterans (SSV). Their mission is to “Empower Veterans, including wounded warriors and their families, to transition into post-military career and communities through outreach and education, assistance obtaining all VA and other earned benefits, training and placement into meaningful new careers, individual advocacy and case management support, community partnerships with Veteran service organizations for quality referrals, and long-term career development and employment placement.” Simply put, Still Serving Veterans exists to assist military personnel in their transition to civilian life.
Their Huntsville-based organization is located in what was formerly a smokehouse in the heart of Huntsville. With the generous donations from several individuals and organizations, SSV transformed this 6,000 square foot facility into a warm and welcoming environment where veterans can feel at ease in their surroundings. When you walk through the door, a staircase (or handicap accessible lift) takes you to a safe haven where you are greeted by one of the friendly staff members. The waiting area is cozy and feels more like a living room than an office. As you walk down the hall, you’ll see the original smokehouse doors remain intact, which gives the space a distinct character. The area at the end of the hallway houses the employee office space, counseling area and an internet café where veterans have access to free internet services to research jobs, benefits and other daily necessities.
In addition to the Internet café, SSV offers free employment services to veterans who are seeking jobs. There are currently over a million unemployed veterans in our nation, with 250,000 of those veterans becoming unemployed each year over the next four years alone. SSV focuses on taking the skills the veteran learned in the military and translating those military terms into civilian attributes to include on their resumes. They also assist the veterans in networking with potential employers and improving their interview etiquette. As of May 2015, SSV has already placed 190 veterans in the job market! They have assisted over 16,000 veterans overall since SSV began in 2007.
SSV also offers counseling and VA claims service at no cost to the veteran. SSV strives to best advocate for the veteran’s overall well-being, so there are two certified counselors on staff to not only help the veteran develop strategies to transition well into civilian life, but also to help their families make a smooth transition with them. These counselors, having served in the military themselves, genuinely care about the veterans and their families and desire to see the entire family unit succeed.
Besides these counseling services, SSV provides benefits and claims assistance to appeal to the VA on behalf of the veteran. One Vietnam veteran had a particularly rewarding experience when SSV helped him navigate through the VA system. Shannon Drake, Director of Community Relations and Outreach, gave a testimony of this man’s story. She recalls, “Our caring and compassionate counselors are advocates for our clients, and they provide invaluable information and guidance through a VA system that is daunting and sometimes frustrating. SSV’s most recent success was advocating for a Vietnam veteran who had not received complete assistance in obtaining his benefits and was waiting for the VA to respond to an old appeal over his claim. He was suffering from Vietnam Agent Orange exposure, which gave him diabetes, and subsequently loss of both legs. Our counselor took him in, reworked his paperwork, and helped him fight the appeal over a nine-month period winning him $245,000 in back pay. Our counselors fight hard and successfully to secure for our clients the benefits they have earned.” This is just one of many success stories that happen each day at SSV. In 2014, their counselors conducted 3,778 one-on-one Veteran counseling sessions, which yielded $16 million in new salaries, benefits and services!
Another service that SSV offers is a unique network of community resources that are available locally to veterans. SSV believes in referring the veterans to existing organizations instead of duplicating what is already being done. Veterans are referred to banks for financial services, the Veteran’s Center if they observe PTSD symptoms, and other organizations that can provide a smoother transition from military to civilian life. SSV is looking to form even more relationships with organizations and services in our community in order to expand their network of assistance for veterans.
One of the most remarkable things about this organization is that all of the services are completely free to veterans. Their funding is secured through grants and fundraising, so the money can appropriately be distributed to each of SSV’s programs. But they still need your donations!
If you would like help, you can contribute to Still Serving Veterans. All donations are tax deductible and 86% of each dollar donated is directly used to support the programs and services offered to veterans and their families.
If you have further questions, please email.