(The Center Square) – Ahead of Veterans Day on Saturday, support of retired service members in “the most veteran and military-friendly state in the nation” is evident in a number of awareness efforts this week in North Carolina.
One of the largest military footprints in the country has major installations for the Army, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. With nearly 800,000 veterans, the state partners with North Carolina For Military Employment and other organizations to help the roughly 20,000 service members who transition from active duty every year.
Estimated economic impact is more than $66 billion.
“What makes us unique is we’re the third-largest Department of Defense presence in the country,” Kimberly Williams, CEO of NC For Military Employment, told The Center Square. “We’re not interested in pushing people into jobs, we’re interested in connecting them with meaningful careers.”
Working with corporations, military bases, the Department of Commerce, and Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, NC For Military Employment leverages the technical skills, leadership training and other benefits of military service to boost private businesses in North Carolina and beyond.
The public-private partnership, commonly known as NC4ME, created by the governor in 2015 educates industry leaders and human resources professionals on the value of hiring military talent, while connecting companies with veterans who can drive business results.
“If we can do that, we can really impact the homelessness rate and suicide rate” among veterans,” Williams said. “We think what we’re doing, with support from the state, is not only about economic development, it’s about doing the right thing for our service members.”
To date, NC4ME has educated more than 12,100 industry leaders and engaged more than 15,700 service members and spouses through the program, creating more than 11,500 career connections.
That work dovetails with the state’s NCWorks programs tailored to veterans, including a dedicated Veterans Portal, 52 NCWorks Veterans Services professionals, and other resources that supported more than 16,300 veterans with job services in 2022-23.
“As America’s most military and veteran-friendly state, we express our deep gratitude to those who have served our country in uniform, as well as their families,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a prepared statement declaring Nov. 6-10 “Employ a Veteran Week.” “We can honor our heroes by helping them get good paying jobs in growing industries that need their skills and dedication.”
The dedicated week, which features events at NCWorks centers across the state, is one of many ways the state recognizes the sacrifice of military service and supports veterans.
The Veterans Services professionals are among scores of retired military service members employed by numerous state agencies. They also participate in a growing number of Veterans Treatment Courts across North Carolina that work to help veterans in the criminal justice system with treatment for mental health, substance abuse, counseling and job services.
That work is supported by $750,000 in state appropriations in the most recent budget for the Veterans Justice Initiative, which trains law enforcement, first responders, and others on the mental and physical challenges impacting veterans once they come home.
“We’re really trying to decriminalize mental health (issues) … to really help connect veterans with treatment” before situations lead to criminal charges,” Executive Director Clark Pennington recently told The Center Square. “It’s really a proactive approach to teach law enforcement and first responders how to deescalate a veteran who might be in crisis.”
That initiative, run through the Independence Fund, a North Carolina organization devoted to helping catastrophically wounded veterans regain their lives and independence, is now expanding from pilot programs launched across six counties in 2021 with an initial $500,000 from the General Assembly.
Still other veteran supports center on healing traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders that can create volatile situations with family and law enforcement. A separate $500,000 appropriation in this year’s budget funds a program that has greatly reduced suicidal ideations and an array of other symptoms in about 60 North Carolina military veterans over the last two years.
The HBOT for Vets program utilizes hyperbaric chambers at Durham’s Extivita clinic to treat veterans with 100% oxygen under two atmospheres of pressure. Jim Hooker, who helps coordinate the program, told The Center Square the organization hopes to match state funding with private donations to expand the free services to eventually reach thousands of veterans statewide in the coming years.
“We’re looking for an exponential increase in the number we’re treating,” he said, noting that roughly a quarter of veterans nationwide suffer from PTSD or traumatic brain injury, suggesting more than 162,000 in North Carolina could benefit from the program.