Magazine article American Libraries

Bridging the Gap for Vets: California Program Trains Librarians and Volunteers to Assist Veterans with Services

Magazine article American Libraries

Bridging the Gap for Vets: California Program Trains Librarians and Volunteers to Assist Veterans with Services

Article excerpt

Novato Public Library, located in a small town in the North Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, has become a meeting place for military veterans. That's thanks to a four-year-old California public library program called Veterans Connect @ the Library, which helps put veterans in touch with benefits and services.

At Novato, for example, one retired Air Force officer who volunteers at the library has become someone whom vets can not only get information from but can also communicate with, according to Kevin Graves, a Bay Area coordinator with the California Department of Veterans Affairs.

"Vets come in every week just to speak to him, sometimes just to talk," Graves says. "He gets something out of it, they get something out of it; it's a win-win."

In some areas of the state. Veterans Connect is essential for former service members who do not have easy access to a veterans services office.

The US Census Bureau estimates that nearly 1.8 million military veterans called California home between 2011 and 2015, giving the state the distinction of having the largest veteran population in the country. More than 10,000 of them live in Merced County, population 268,455, in northern San Joaquin Valley, about three hours southeast of San Francisco.

Amy Taylor, Merced County librarian, says it can take veterans in the city of Los Banos two and a half hours by bus to get to the nearest veteran's services office in the city of Merced.

"A single appointment can take six hours out of a person's day," Taylor says.

It's a problem not just in Merced County but across California and the nation, according to Karen Bosch Cobb and Jacquie Brinkley, project advisors with Pacific Library Partnership, which is collaborating with the state on the groundbreaking program that is providing veterans with access to services at California public libraries.

Spearheaded in 2012 by the California Department of Veterans Affairs in partnership with the California State Librarian and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Veterans Connect @ the Library program has grown to 51 locations, and organizers already are providing information on how to set them up elsewhere in the US, according to Brinkley.

Los Banos Library is one of the recent additions to the Veterans Connect program that Cobb and Brinkley are overseeing. Launched in November, the program in Los Banos not only provides veterans with dedicated computers, books, forms, and other information, but also with librarians trained to connect them to a myriad of resources available to them, Taylor says.

The Veterans Connect website offers webinars and other online tutorials, as well as information for library staffers and volunteers to learn more about assisting veterans with health, housing, employment, education, and other benefits. In Los Banos, three staff members and two volunteers have completed the training, Taylor says. …

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