Veterans’ Groups Provide Job Counseling, Wellness Services, Camaraderie and More


People often tell Jessica Gilmore that they have driven by Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard and wondered what they do. “We hear that a lot, and we’ve been here since 1996,” said Gilmore, Veterans Place development coordinator.


The nonprofit, appropriately located on Washington Blvd., assists veterans in three main programs: transitional housing, veterans resource center and workforce development. The organization serves about 500 veterans annually.


The transitional housing program provides on-site housing for up to 48 veterans with 24/7 staffing. Each veteran has a case manager who assists with health care, financial planning, and individualized goals. Workforce development assists veterans with job counseling, training and education, and job-hunting skills.


“A really cool thing is that we not only pay for training or certification, but we also pay for uniforms, tools and supplies,” said Gilmore. Despite the COVID pandemic, 122 veterans re-entered the workforce last year.


The Veterans Resource Center is a unique, onsite drop-in program for veterans—one of only 15 in the entire country. “We have transportation that goes out and picks up the veterans, brings them here where they can get breakfast and a hot lunch, take showers, do laundry and meet with counselors,” Gilmore explained. The Center also operates a food pantry; in 2020, more than 3,500 veterans and their families were served through its efforts.


Veterans Place has several other programs to provide for the specific needs of the veterans, such as the Female Veteran Program, Low-Income Veterans and Families Program, and an Opioid Response Program. “These programs are designed to meet each veteran where they are and to offer veterans a roadmap for success,” Gilmore said.


Veterans Place is unusual in several aspects. “We are the only campus-style housing program in the region. The camaraderie, sense of community and support groups are important. Plus, we have 24/7 support on-site,” Gilmore said. For more information about Veterans Place, call 412-363-0500 or visit

www.veteransplaceusa.org.


The Veterans Breakfast Club (VBC) started in 2008 when local business owner Dan Cavanaugh asked his friend, Todd DePastino, a historian and author, to share some of his knowledge with veterans.


“We started with about 30 World War II veterans; they started sharing their stories and it was amazing,” DePastino said.


The two continued hosting the breakfasts every month, and soon more and more veterans began participating, and more events were added. While they’d started with WWII veterans, in 2010, they began focusing on all veterans, all ages, and all branches of the military. In 2019, VBC hosted 75 events.


While a main focus of the nonprofit is to link veterans with other veterans to share stories and experiences, there is another vital component, according to DePastino.


“We want to bridge the divide between those who served and those who did not. It is often a tough time for veterans to re-enter life after they serve. We want to help non-veterans understand what they went through,” he said.


During COVID, VBC pivoted to all online services. “In 2020, our last event was March 10. On March 25, we hosted a town hall to take the temperature of online events and it was a success. We have actually grown in attendance because we have people from all over the country,” said DePastino.


Dan Vaughn is a veteran who has attended both in-person and online programming. The Vietnam War veteran said sharing experiences with other veterans means a lot to both him and his wife, Cheryl.


“The stories can be overwhelming, but when I hear the stories from other veterans, I’m able to relate to a certain aspect,” he said, “It makes for an interesting day.”


Cheryl benefits from learning more about the time her husband served. “She was my girlfriend at the time,” he explained.


VBC’s in-person events are held in numerous venues in different locations in the region, making it more convenient for anyone who wants to attend. “We welcome everyone including spouses, friends—anyone who wants to come,” DePastino said.


The organization also offers non-breakfast programming to attract a larger audience. “Our younger veterans have jobs and couldn’t get away for breakfast, so those virtual programs have been great to reach new people,” he added.


The nonprofit has numerous sponsors who provide funding for events and programming. VBC also publishes the VBC Magazine, which shares stories of veterans, and hosts a podcast, the Scuttlebutt.


“We will be hosting our first in-person event since COVID on July 14 and will continue with our online programming because it has been so successful,” DePastino said, adding that attendees range from WW II survivors to one of its newest member, a 13-year-old boy.


“He is a WW II junkie,” DePastino said.


For more information about VBC, visit www.veteransbreakfastclub.org or call 412-623-9029.


The Veterans Leadership Program (VLP) is a nonprofit that works to empower veterans navigating the transitions of life.


“VLP’s vision is that every veteran of the United States military reach their fullest potential as citizens of the nation that they have so proudly served,” said Toshua Jarrett, chief development officer. VLP provides comprehensive services through housing, career development, and wellness and supportive services.


According to Jarrett, VLP was created in 1982 after mill and manufacturing jobs disappeared.


‘It was at this time that Vietnam veterans took it upon themselves to step up as leaders and provide job assistance and supportive services to their peers who were displaced in the changing economy,” she said. “They called it the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program (VVLP).


“During the Reagan Administration, Vietnam Veterans Leadership had an office in all 50 states,” she continued. “To this day, only two remain, including our organization and an organization in Texas.”


VLP serves all veterans in the region, taking a holistic approach. “In addition to addressing the immediate crisis a veteran may be facing, our team works alongside them to find and address the root of their challenges, ensuring our veterans are empowered to achieve long-term success,” Jarrett said.


VLP provides programming in housing, career development, wellness and supportive services to veterans and their families in 30 counties throughout western and central Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio. “In 2020, VLP made an impact on the lives of 6,208 veterans,” Jarrett said.


For more information about VLP, visit www.veteransleadershipprogram.org or call 1-844-857-8387.

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