Philanthropic leaders today reaffirmed the sector’s long-term commitment to ensuring that America’s military service members, veterans and their families receive the support they deserve. Sector leaders gathered in Washington, D.C. to announce that more than $276,000,000 in cash and in-kind contributions through the Philanthropy-Joining Forces Impact Pledge.
Six new Pledge members were recognized for joining the effort, including the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, The Jewish Women's Foundation of New Jersey, Lockheed Martin Corporation, New York State Health Foundation, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation, and the WebMD Health Foundation.
New Pledge members were recognized for their commitment and presented with special ‘challenge coins.’ Such coins are part of a military tradition of recognizing special achievements of service members by presenting coins that feature their unit’s emblem or insignia.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald told philanthropic leaders that the sector’s support is seen and felt throughout America, but significant needs remain and continued support from corporate and foundations is crucial.
“No single organization can be all things – to all people – in all places,” said Sec. McDonald said. “Enhancing strategic partnerships is a cornerstone of our effort to reorganize the Department of Veterans Affairs. We understand that VA’s ability to care for America’s Veterans is only enhanced when we have strategic partners and we are grateful to the private and philanthropic sector organizations coming together today to increase services and support for Veterans and their families.”
For example, through cross-sector collaboration, homelessness among veterans has declined by one-third since 2010 and communities such as New Orleans, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City have declared an end to veteran homelessness and are making strides at the community-level. But a panel of housing leaders and advocates reminded attendees that attaining and sustaining success requires diligence and continued collaboration.
Lee Woodruff, author and co-founder of the Bob Woodruff Foundation, and former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, founder of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, discussed what led them to establish causes devoted to meeting the needs of military service members, veterans, and their families.
Sen. Dole described her experience during an 11-month period at Walter Reed Military Medical Center while her husband, former Sen. Bob Dole, was hospitalized. “During that time, we met and got to know wounded warriors, spouses, and families struggling to manage with all of the legal and financial matters, as well as caregiving across multiple medical systems,” Sen. Dole said. “It became clear we needed to establish a foundation and provide evidence-based research about the gaps in services that support military members, veterans and their caregivers.”
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation commissioned a RAND Corporation report on the needs of family members who are caring for veterans, revealing gaps in programs and making recommendations about the best ways to fill those gaps. The two-year research effort now serves as a blueprint for establishing and enhancing services and programs.
“To get these things done, we absolutely need the support of the philanthropic community,” Sen. Dole said.
Lee Woodruff added that too many Americans are unaware of the struggles facing military families who must care for injured soldiers when they return home and are often too afraid to ask for help out of guilt. She also emphasized the need for relevant agencies, service providers and the philanthropic sector to break down silos and communicate more effectively to ensure the needs of family members are met.
A progress report featuring profiles of Impact Pledge members and supporters was also released today by the Council on Foundations and organizations that spearheaded the Impact Pledge, including Blue Shield of California Foundation, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, the Lincoln Community Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
“Today’s event is about so much more than money. It is about a shared desire to focus on what really matters—supporting military families and honoring our commitment to those who have served,” said Vikki Spruill, president and CEO of the Council on Foundations, host of the event. “If we emphasize impact and build partnerships, we will be so much more than the sum of our parts. With continued support and engagement, we are showing our men and women in uniform that their community—their nation—stands with them, not just now, but for the long haul.”