by Gail Zoppo
“This historic day has been 17 years in the making,” said retired Sen. Joseph Lieberman, referring to the repeal of the discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) ban on gay and lesbian people openly serving as U.S. service members. The landmark Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 — a defining diversity moment that went into effect two years ago on September 20, 2011 — coincides with this year’s 65th anniversary of the American Conference on Diversity (ACOD) and aligns with our mission for equality for everyone.
Similar to the continued goals of the ACOD as well as our sponsors and supporters, achieving full equality for all veterans is an ongoing process. Fortunately, because the high court struck down DOMA in June (the 1996 federal law that defined marriage as a union only between a man and a woman), the Pentagon recently made a range of federal benefits available to same-sex spouses of service members. In addition to healthcare coverage, same-sex spouses of military members and retirees will now be eligible for the Survivor Benefit Plan, joint spouse assignments, administrative absence for marriage, and more.
Still, today’s more than 1 million returning service members …
- Experience difficulty transitioning from military to civilian life, a Prudential Financial survey found. Prudential has successfully launched significant programs and initiatives to support veterans.
- Face more service-connected disabilities than veterans of prior wars, because of multiple tours of duty
- Struggle with 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.
“Many of us have no idea of what we can or should be doing to help our veterans transition back into the community,” said Laurie Shanderson, Ph.D., MPA, Assistant Dean, School of Health Sciences, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and a strong supporter of the ACOD.
That’s where the work of the ACOD and our supporters come in. Together, we are making a positive impact on the lives of all veterans.
- Earlier this year, our Atlantic County chapter hosted a free program entitled “Supporting Those Who Serve” at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey to educate, spread awareness, and promote a better understanding of the needs of returning service members. (Richard Stockton College also hosted our annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. event in January.)
- BASF recently launched the Honor American campaign to help raise $20,000 for wounded warriors.
- Verizon has a special military hiring website dedicated to helping transitioning service members find jobs.
- PSEG created PSEG Vets, a group that provides support and useful information to PSEG veterans, active, guard, and reserve military professionals to ease the transition.
“All of these organizations are supporters of the work of the American Conference on Diversity, and I look forward to continuing the work of supporting our veterans as they re-enter the workforce, pursue new opportunities through higher education, and get the quality healthcare services they require,” says our President and CEO Elizabeth Williams-Riley.
What can you do? Donate to the American Conference on Diversity to help continue our 65-year legacy of valuing diversity, educating leaders, and promoting respect for all members of society, both military and civilian.
Gail Zoppo is a media relations consultant for the American Conference on Diversity.
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