november 17, 2008

G.I. Go and Mayor Booker Open Ground-Breaking Transition Center for Veterans

The G.I. Go Veterans Transition Center of Newark offers an array on unique services for OEF and OIF veterans looking for assistance.

NEWARK, NJ - Mayor Cory Booker, along with G.I. Go Fund Executive Director Jack Fanous and representatives of Newark veterans’ organizations, formally opened the G.I. Go Veterans Transition Center of Newark at a City Hall Rotunda ceremony today.

“What we achieve here with this partnership will do more than honor our veterans for their service – it will manifest into action the words of Abraham Lincoln more than 100 years ago, in his Second Inaugural Address: ‘Let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.’ It speaks to who and what we are as a society,” Mayor Booker said.

The G.I. Go Veterans Transition Center of Newark offers an array on unique services for OEF and OIF veterans looking for assistance. Currently operating from a centralized location in Newark City Hall, the Transition Center provides veterans with support for VA enrollment, mental wellness, securing employment, education advancement, and financial support, among other things.

The center is the first-ever partnership between a municipality and a non-governmental organization to support veterans and address their issues in the nation’s history.

At the ceremony, Booker and other dignitaries gave thanks to those who deserve it most, the Newark residents and municipal employees who have served or are serving in the Armed Forces.

“We are proud of the members of our municipal team who have served our country in uniform and continue to serve as members of our municipal team,” he said. “They have put country and community first. They are heroes and role models for our nation and our city, and their sacrifice and commitment inspires and motivates us to follow their example.”

Also taking part in the ceremony was Paul Rieckhoff, the Director and Founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, who outlined the importance of providing such innovative assistance to today’s veteran.

“2009 is a critical time for the 1.8 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are returning home. We must turn the page on the shameful way the Vietnam veterans were treated when they returned home. The G.I. Go program is a great program and I’m grateful that the City of Newark is leading the way and setting the pace that other cities across the nation should follow,” said Rieckhoff.

In addition, New Jersey Deputy Commissioner of Military and Veterans Affairs Col. (Ret.) Stephen Abel noted how programs such as this can show our men and women in uniform how much we care.

“We are living in different times from previous wars,” said Abel. “We face significant challenges in our cities, state, and nation, because of the economy, in trying to care for our veterans. We have a forward-looking mayor in Newark, who, instead of cutting programs, is working with the community to better serve our veterans. I commend the Mayor, the Municipal Council, and the G.I. Go Fund for its work.”

The center offers a variety of programs to veterans, including a Mental Health Wellness Program for veterans and families, an Employment Assistance Program, an Education Advancement Program, and assistance with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ VA Navigator Program, so veterans can receive all the benefits to which they are entitled.

“When veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan, they face a challenging transition from military to civilian life,” said G.I. Go President Fanous. They need to know that there are people back home who care for them and are doing all that is in their power to make their transition as smooth as possible. The City of Newark is lucky to have a Mayor who is willing to lead, not just by words, but by action. Caring for our veterans is not only our obligation and our duty, but it is our pleasure,”

The G.I. Go Fund has already provided veterans with unparalleled support over the past few years. Whether it was pushing for state legislation passed earlier this year barring employers and municipalities from laying off employees who are serving on active duty under the Army Reserve or National Guard or serving on Senator Robert Menendez’s Veterans Outreach Committee, G.I. Go has worked tirelessly to give our brave men and women the assistance they deserve. Their efforts were recently rewarded when they were presented with the Certificate of Pride in Public Service by Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care System Director Kenneth H. Mizrach on May 23, 2008.

When asked what has attributed to their organization’s success, Fanous stated that they often use unorthodox methods that have great impact on today’s returning warriors. “We don’t simply give lectures in a hall,” Fanous said. “We host outreach events at outings like barbecues, professional sporting events, and recreational activities. This attracts veterans to the outreach and motivates them to find out about available programs and enroll in the VA Health Care System.”

Fanous then noted that while the past success has been great, all the organization’s focus will go towards using the center to help our veterans for years to come.

“Now we hope that this one of a kind center can help our veterans get a good and steady job or much needed medical care. It is a difficult task, but the Mayor and I are both very confident that this center will give veterans the kind of assistance they have never seen before. I invite all veterans in need to come to the center for their problems, because this center is not just about helping others, it’s about repaying our debt to men and women who sacrificed everything for us.”