By Elizabeth Williams-Riley, President and CEO, American Conference on Diversity

Between 2011 and 2016 more than 1 million service members are expected to return home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Transitioning veterans not only face difficulties finding civilian employment in today’s competitive labor market, but they’ll also encounter bias and discrimination due to their service-related injuries that require complete living adjustments/changes.

Our nation is in a time of transition, as we were in 1948 when the American Conference on Diversity (ACOD) was established three years after the end of WWII. Workforce demographics are shifting; veterans are returning home differently-abled; there are increased burdens on caregivers. Newly returning veterans, however, face drastic cuts to government-funded services. And because veterans are trained to be self-sufficient, they’re falling under the radar and their much-needed programs are at risk of being slashed. Today’s service members:

  • Experience more service-connected disabilities than veterans of prior wars, because of multiple tours of duty
  • Face severe mental-health issues. More than 90 percent of those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to some type of traumatic, combat-related situation
  • Are increasingly people of color and economically stressed. Veterans of color are disproportionately more likely than whites to become homeless, and about half of all homeless veterans are people of color.

Community organizations help fill the gaps. It is our goal to build more awareness and work in collaboration with our community partners to level the playing field for veterans. Earlier this year, our Atlantic County chapter hosted a free program at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey to educate, spread awareness, and promote a better understanding of the needs of returning service members.

“Many of us have no idea of what we can or should be doing to help our veterans transition back into the community. The ACOD event was effective in highlighting the challenges veterans face and the actual supports that exist. This is an area that requires much attention,” says Assistant Dean Laurie Shanderson, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

Through our educational forums, we want to provide a new level of understanding on the opportunities for veterans to access healthcare, employment, and higher education services.