How to connect veterans with their benefits

Editor-in-Chief Thea Marie Rood says in her role at N&R, she has the opportunity to work with numerous community changemakers—scientists, politicians, physicians, and advocates, including those who work on issues close to her own heart.

by Anh Nguyen

With her experience in writing, editing and project management, she has worked on many important and wide-ranging topics such as affordable housing, voting rights and recycling. The work and mission at N&R has always been fascinating to her. But one stands out: the annual project for the County of San Diego Office of Military & Veterans Affairs.

The 12-page print publications help service members, veterans and their families utilize available resources and connect to benefits for housing, health care and education. Together with OMVA staff and partners, and N&R writers and designers, N&R Publications has been producing them since 2016. Rood has helped produce the past four publications.

Could you tell us more about this project?

The Office of Military & Veterans Affairs is deeply committed to helping service members, veterans and their families connect to all the benefits they earned. And the earned part is important: this is not a handout, but something you are eligible for because you helped protect our country.

Transition Assistance
County of San Diego Office of Military & Veterans Affairs

San Diego County has one of the biggest populations of active duty military and veterans in the U.S., and OMVA also knew they had some hard-to-reach folks—such as older veterans or veterans experiencing homelessness, with little access to transportation or computers. They contracted with us six years ago to do an annual print publication to help with a major outreach effort. The client wants every service member, veteran and family member to know there are amazing resources for them, and lots of organizations—including many nonprofits in San Diego—devoted to helping everyone access those resources.

Could you describe the working process?

We start this annual publication in the late summer and aim to have it distributed around Veterans Day in November. Many of our writers have been working on this project for several years and are also well-versed in veterans’ needs and challenges.

Design also plays a critical part. These are publications that are chock-full of important information, by their very nature, but with clean, clear design elements, they don’t look text-heavy and are very readable—something you want to pick up.

How did you become aware of this issue?

My husband is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. For many years, we were completely unaware of the benefits he was eligible for. It was a very kind OMVA staffer in Northern California, where we live, who encouraged my husband to come in and meet with him in the early 2000s. With his help, we were able to obtain a Tricare (health insurance) policy for our entire family with little-to-no out-of-pocket costs and excellent coverage. We learned our two young kids were eligible for CalVet tuition waivers at all state universities. We also became aware of VA home loans, which may be used multiple times. This is the fourth pub I have worked on—as a writer and then an editor—and I am happy to help get the word out to other families like my own. It was life-changing for us.

How would you describe the impact this project has?

I think one of the coolest things about this project is that it is designed to reach people in an effective way. It is inserted into San Diego newspapers and is being handed out at events, by partners, in the OMVA office, at libraries, by the mobile LiveWell van to people who otherwise do not have good digital access to this information.

LiveWell Mobile Office Vehicle

How do you feel about this publication?

I realize there are many, many families like ours who did not know about these benefits and whose lives could be changed—as ours were—by obtaining them. I also know there are veterans who are suffering from physical and mental health issues or are struggling to find employment, housing and health care. The VA benefits can also significantly address these issues and help get people back on their feet. I am so honored to have worked on this project with these committed people. And again, because of my family’s personal experience, I feel everyone who picks up one of these pubs and makes a phone call to an OMVA office is going to feel as great as we did when we learned what benefits we were eligible for.

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