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Filling the gaps for our service members

This Veterans Day, thank a veteran and understand ways to assist them and current active military families.

Veteran's DayReleased: Nov. 10, 2015

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Many U.S. citizens pay their respects to veterans, and active duty military men and women, particularly on Veterans Day. While the national holiday is meant to honor those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, it can also be a day to call attention to the needs of those who have protected the country.

Students and faculty involved in Kansas State University’s Institute for the Health and Security of Military Families provide resources and research opportunities centered on helping these families across Kansas. The institute brings together Kansas State University, K-State Research and Extension, AmeriCorps VISTA and the Kansas National Guard, that work on several military initiatives, including one called Joining Community Forces (JCF).

JCF is a national initiative, said Elaine Johannes, an associate professor in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at K-State. Through it, local groups in Kansas work on a common goal: strengthening the local military community.

Johannes, who is also a youth development extension specialist, said working locally acknowledges the strength of military families, while helping build resilience and addressing their needs. Some of the needs for many military families are behavioral, medical, educational and financial.

In addition, many seek assistance for affordable housing and employment after leaving the military, she said.

“Though our military families are accustomed to sacrifice and ‘giving back,’ the strain they are under is increasing,” Johannes said. “These gaps are becoming urgent due to more service members being ‘downsized’ from service, along with the stress and strain that local communities are under to address increasing needs to all families.”

The gaps identified are not unique to Kansas, she added. In fact, they are consistent nationally and can be found in many different sizes of communities. They apply to people of all ethnicities, socioeconomic statutes and income levels.

A closer look at addressing needs

Emily Betthauser, a K-State student and an AmeriCorps VISTA member, said Kansas in particular has many rural communities, which can be one of the many reasons for gaps in services such as access to appropriate medical care.

“We’ve actually found that one-third of all military veterans are seeking medical care outside of the VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs), because they live too far from a VA medical center,” Betthauser said. “Many are seeking civilian care. That’s where we come in and gather resources from particular communities, so (veterans) know where to go to find the quickest and most affordable care.”

On the housing side, Betthauser said instead of living on post or base, some military families must live elsewhere. Especially if they are detached from active duty and have perhaps switched over to the National Guard, certain resources they may have had before are no longer available.

“It can be difficult if a service member doesn’t have a lot of experience in a civilian world, especially if that person joined right after high school,” Betthauser said. “If they have children and a family to take care of, it can be even more difficult.”

Another gap to fill is providing resources to help military service members transfer their military service experience to civilian work. Helping veterans understand how to take their military training to the civilian workforce is a goal of JCF.

Brittany Beneke, another K-State student and an AmeriCorps VISTA member, said K-State Research and Extension agents across the state can help spread awareness of these issues to their local communities about the work of JCF.

“Through JCF and the six Family Assistance Centers across the state, we are trying to create military-friendly communities,” Beneke said. “So, when downsizing does happen, and people find themselves in a civilian role instead of in the military, they are going to feel more comfortable transitioning.”

Betthauser and Beneke said they also volunteer with PAWS, which stands for parents around the world serving. Through PAWS, they visit elementary schools in the Manhattan area and work with military children on building resilience through fun and educational health and science activities.

How you can help

If attending a Veterans Day parade, Johannes said, acknowledge the sacrifice of veterans and thank them. Thank the spouses and children who serve, too.

“Probably in the longer term, I think community members could be part of a JCF to look at local services,” she said. “Do we have adequate housing? Do we have behavioral health care? Do we have a variety of legal services for those military members who are tucked away in our neighborhoods? What can I do for the military children in our schools? How can I help our local medical staff be equipped to serve our military members and veterans?”

“Finally, I think that we as Americans should realize that 1 percent of the population fights our wars,” she continued. “Acknowledge and honor that there are citizens who put themselves in harm’s way for us.”


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
Katie Allen
K-State Research and Extension

For more information:
Elaine Johannes – ejohanne@ksu.edu or 785-532-7720