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Endowments seeks veterans’ voices for special fact-finding forums

PITTSBURGH, Jan. 28, 2016 – The Heinz Endowments is hosting three special meetings in February for area veterans and military servicemen and servicewomen to share their thoughts on improving veteran services and programs in southwestern Pennsylvania.

At each of the events – the first of their kind in our region – attendees will gather with trained facilitators to discuss their experiences in transitioning to civilian life. The information collected will help groups who work with veterans tailor their services to best meet the needs of this growing local population.

The forums will be held on Thursday, Feb. 4, Monday, Feb. 8 and Thursday, Feb. 11 and are the latest Endowments initiative to address veteran issues in southwestern Pennsylvania. They follow a report commissioned by the Endowments and conducted by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Needs Assessment: Veterans in Southwest Pennsylvania. Released in November last year, the report found that southwestern Pennsylvania is home to approximately 235,000 veterans.

Of those, 37,400 are from post-9/11 conflicts and more than 5,200 veterans move to southwestern Pennsylvania each year. Unemployment, underemployment and economic security are among veterans’ greatest concerns and only 38 percent of those surveyed said they were satisfied with services found in southwestern Pennsylvania.

To better assist area veterans in finding appropriate services and opportunities, the Endowments launched PA Serves in October 2015, creating a new one-stop on-line tool that enables veterans to review and connect with services and opportunities available to them after leaving military service.

“Increasingly, veterans are becoming a significant part of our community in southwestern Pennsylvania,” said Grant Oliphant, President of the Endowments. “They represent a huge asset in terms of the talents and skills they bring to our region, and it is vital that they are given the opportunity to integrate smoothly into civilian life. Our forums will be a distinctive tool for us to better understand how to make their transition as easy and fulfilling as possible.”

The forums will be conducted by LUMA Institute, which helps organizations grow and innovate and Art of Democracy, which helps facilitate community engagement. The events are a partnership between the Endowments and the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, and The Mission Continues, all of which provided assistance in outreach to the veteran population and in developing the forums’ content and Community College of Allegheny County, which in addition has a large veteran student population and is providing space for the events.

Sessions led by LUMA are part of a broader commitment by the Endowments to integrate design thinking and human centered design principles into the Endowments grantmaking and community change efforts. "Design thinking teaches us to begin by actively listening to the people we want to support and rapidly developing and testing ideas with them, said Grant Oliphant. “That is the essence of good philanthropy, so we are excited about the insights these sessions will produce."

"In county government, one of our key functions is to act as the local office for our veterans and to provide access and information to services," said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. "By participating in this process, the exact needs and desires of the veteran community, particularly those who are our newest veterans, will be an important part of defining the services and programs that we should focus on for years to come."

The Office of Mayor Bill Peduto recently launched Homefront Pittsburgh, an effort to assist veterans with jobs, entrepreneurship and homeownership. "We owe a great debt to our veterans, and it will take a community-wide effort to provide them with the services and support they are due. I applaud The Heinz Endowments for this initiative, and look forward to hearing from these heroes on ways the Pittsburgh community can rise up to help them," said Mayor Peduto.

The events are free. To register for one of the discussions, veterans and current servicemen and women may click on the appropriate link below:

  • Thursday, Feb. 4., 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC), 808 Ridge Ave., Pittsburgh, RSVP
  • Monday, Feb. 8, 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., CCAC Boyce Campus, 595 Beatty Rd., Monroeville, RSVP 
  • Thursday, Feb. 11, 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., CCAC West Hills Center, 1000 McKee Rd., Oakdale, RSVP

Other findings from the CNAS report show that Gulf War-era veterans, those who have served from 1990 onward, are expected to become the largest segment of the veteran population in southwestern Pennsylvania this year. Nearly one-third of veterans who took part in the CNAS study reported some period of unemployment during the 12 months prior to the survey. They gave local community services an average grade on meeting veteran needs, and said there are significant problems with coordination between public, private and non-profit providers.

The study also showed that only 6.5 percent of southwestern Pennsylvania’s veterans use their GI Bill benefits. The national average is 8.4 percent. Graduation rates range from 11 percent at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh’s online division to 88 percent at Carnegie Mellon University. In addition, veteran homelessness in southwestern Pennsylvania is among the lowest in the nation, indicating significant impact from social services.

Started with a $300,000 grant from the Endowments to Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, PA Serves was launched in response to perceived coordination issues between different providers. It is a collaboration of 45 different service providers and is administered by Pittsburgh Mercy Health System. PA Serves is modeled on similar initiatives in New York and North Carolina.


For information, contact:
John Ellis
Senior Director of Communications
The Heinz Endowments