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Witness Testimony of Rev. E. Terri LaVelle, Director Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Chairwoman Buerkle, Ranking Member Michaud, and Members of the Subcommittee:  thank you for the opportunity to speak about the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships’ (CFBNP) outreach efforts to and with faith-based and community organizations.  As Director of VA’s CFBNP since September 14, 2009, I have had the opportunity to engage first-hand with faith-based, non-profit and community leaders and organizations.

My testimony today will provide background information on the VA CFBNP, the collaborative outreach work the Center has engaged in beginning in 2005 with faith-based, non-profit and community leaders and organizations, internal VA partners, and the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. 

Background

VA’s Center for Faith-based and Community Initiatives was established on June 1, 2004, by Executive Order 13342.  The objective was to coordinate agency efforts for the elimination of regulatory, contracting, and other programmatic obstacles to enable faith-based and community organizations to access resources they need to provide social and community services.

In February 2009, President Obama amended Executive Order 13199 to establish the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFBNP).  The name change reflects the emphasis and importance of developing and cultivating partnerships, through intentional outreach, with those in the community that already provide services and meet the needs of so many of our citizens.

The VA CFBNP is one of thirteen Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Centers in the Federal government.

Mission

The mission of VA’s CFBNP is to develop partnerships with and provide relevant information to faith-based and secular organizations and expand their participation in VA programs in order to better serve the needs of Veterans, their families, survivors and caregivers.  VA’s CFBNP cultivates and develops relationships with faith-based and secular organizations, working with them as collaborative partners to serve our Veterans, their families, survivors and caregivers.  CFBNP outreaches to external partners to expand their understanding of, and participation in, VA programs.

Outreach Collaboration

Since 2005, Nationwide, VA CFBNP has conducted pro-active outreach events interacting with over 1200 faith-based, non-profit and community leaders and organizations.  The outreach events consisted of roundtables, conferences, and workshops.

Since its inception in 2009, VA’s CFBNP has proactively outreached to faith-based, non-profit and community leaders and organizations, often collaborating and/or partnering with internal and external stakeholders.  The internal partners for outreach events include the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E) Service, VA Chaplain Service, VA Homeless Program Office, National Cemetery Administration (NCA), Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) Coordinators, and VA’s Voluntary Service.  The Center’s external partners include Good Will International; American Red Cross; Habitat for Humanity; Salvation Army, USA; State Veterans Organizations; and Catholic Charities in Chicago, IL.

Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 and 2012 Internal Outreach Collaborations

VA CFBNP and VBA VR&E Service have partnered with local VBA Regional Offices to co-host Veterans Roundtables with the target audience being faith-based, non-profit and community leaders and organizations.  Local and regional VA staff serve as panelists and roundtable discussion participants.  These events provide members of the local community an opportunity to meet and interact with VA staff and to know their local contacts and resources for assisting Veterans.  The Veterans Roundtables were held in Jackson, MS; Seattle, WA; Newark, NJ; Waco, TX; Las Vegas, NV; Cleveland, OH and Louisville, KY.  The attendee total at the Veterans Roundtables was 450.  These VA Regional Roundtables have two primary goals:

  • To facilitate collaborative working relationships among faith-based and secular organizations, VBA, NCA, and VHA so that holistic service can be provided to Veterans, their families, and survivors in the community where the Roundtable is held.
  • To inform attendees of the number of Veterans in their community, what their current needs are, and potential funding available to faith-based and secular organizations who can demonstrate an ability to meet those needs in collaboration with the VA. 

VA CFBNP is coordinating with VBA to co-host roundtables in FY 2012 at VBA VR&E Service and Regional Offices in Montgomery, AL; Lincoln, NE; Albuquerque, NM; and Boston, MA.

FY 2011 and 2012 External Outreach Collaborations

The VA CFBNP helped planned and conduct workshops at two outreach events with external partners.  One was with the State of California Department of Veterans Affairs and the California Statewide Collaborative for Our Military and Families and held in San Jose.  The other was the “Battlemind to Home II” Symposium conducted with the local VA Medical Center, the Department of Labor and the Military Family Research Institute (MFRI) of Purdue University in Indianapolis, IN.  The number of persons who attended these workshops respectively was 120 and 95.

The VA CFBNP participated in five “Connecting Communities for the Common Good” Conferences in collaboration with the White House OFBNP, local officials from the host city, and the Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnership Centers from other Federal Agencies.  The conferences were held in Philadelphia, PA; Detroit, MI; New Orleans, LA; Chicago, IL; and Denver, CO.

In order to support local organizations as they tackle community challenges, the regional events have three key goals:

  • To build and strengthen relationships between community and faith-based groups, and with local, regional and Federal government partners;
  • To highlight relevant Federal and public/private partnership opportunities, and to connect groups to these opportunities; and
  • To open the door and tell the story of the Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

                       

At each “Connecting Communities for the Common Good” Conference, VA CFBNP moderates a workshop and facilitates a roundtable discussion.  Each workshop and roundtable consists of local and regional VA staff as panelists and roundtable participants.  Having local and regional VA staff present begins building relationships at the local level between VA and the faith-based, non-profit and community leaders and organizations in attendance.  The average attendance at each VA CFBNP workshop and roundtable discussion was 50 people.  The CFBNP reached over 300 faith-based, non-profit and community leaders and organizations.

As the CFBNP Director, I have attended, presented, and conducted training on VA programs and services at the following events.  These outreach events provide information about the needs of our Veterans, their families, survivors, and caregivers. Information is also presented on the opportunities available to faith-based, non-profit, and community leaders and organizations to become collaborative partners with VA to meet the needs of Veterans, their families, survivors and caregivers.  Examples of my activities as CFBNP Director include:

 

  • Speaker at the MFRI’s November 2011 conference “Battlemind to Home II Symposium.”  The goal of the conference was to reduce community reintegration barriers for returning Servicemembers and their families by increasing community knowledge and awareness of challenges faced and the supports available from a collaborative perspective.
  • Participant at the Working Together to Strengthen Guard and Reserve Couples and Families Forum sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center.  The Forum was held in Charlotte, NC, August 15-16, 2011.
  • Presenter at the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) AIM (Auxiliary in Ministries) Conference held in Houston, TX, August 6-9, 2011.
  • Speaker at the Veterans Roundtable sponsored by the CA Collaborative for Military and Families of San Jose, CA, March 23-24, 2011.  This is a collaborative of over 200 faith-based and community organizations.
  • Keynote speaker a Douglas Memorial United Methodist Church’s Pastor's Forum - Veteran Women Resource Center.  The Pastor’s Forum was held in Washington, DC, March 26, 2011.
  • Panelist at Forging the Partnerships:  DOD/USDA Family Resilience Conference held in Chicago, IL, April 27-28, 2011.  This was a clergy panel with representatives from the National Guard, Air Force, Army, Marines and Coast Guard

The VA CFBNP will join the White House OFBNP “Connecting Communities for the Common Good” Conference in several cities beginning in March 2012.  Center staff is serving on the “Battlemind to Home II” Symposium 2012 planning team.  The CFBNP joins with the local VA Medical Center, the Department of Labor and the Military Family Research Institute (MFRI) of Purdue University in Indianapolis, IN, to convene and co-host the 2012 Symposium.

Conclusion

The VA CFBNP increases Veterans participation in VA programs through outreach to, and partnerships with, faith-based, and community organizations.  CFBNP collaborates with internal and external partners, creates partnerships between government agencies and faith-based and community organizations.  CFBNP uses outreach events and internal and external partnerships to provide VA’s program information to faith-based and community organizations which enables them to inform and serve Veterans, their families, survivors and caregivers.

The VA CFBNP is consistently reaching out to, engaging, and educating faith-based, non-profit and community leaders and organizations on the role and work of the Center.  The Center is open to diverse ways for developing collaborative partnerships with faith-based, non-profit, and community leaders and organizations that will best serve our Veterans, their families, survivors and caregivers.

Madam Chairwoman, this concludes my prepared statement.  I am prepared to answer your questions at this time.