November 3, 2011; Source: The New York Times | Advocacy groups have been working to draw public attention to the physical and emotional needs of returned veterans for years, and now a growing group of veterans are working to draw the attention of their returned fellow service men and women to the healing power that can come from nonprofit work. According to a recent story in the New York Times, The Mission Continues, an organization established in 2007 by Navy Seal and Rhodes scholar Eric Greitens, is an example of a new crop of organizations that aim to ease veterans’ transition to civilian life by showing them the power of volunteering. 

In keeping with the Mission Continues’ goal of easing veterans’ return, the organization provides a stipend of $6,000 for a seven-month volunteer commitment with an organization, and stipulates that participants must have an “exit strategy” for their post-fellowship lives. In 2009, the organization partnered with Civic Enterprises on an evaluation of participating veterans, which revealed that “younger veterans feel a hunger for continued service.” The study also showed that “90 percent (of participating veterans) agreed that helping in their communities was important to them, yet nearly 7 in 10 said they had not been contacted by institutions to do such work.” An additional study by Washington University found that, based on the organization’s first class of 52 fellows, “7 in 10 continued their education after leaving the program and more than half volunteered at groups that provided social services or assisted veterans.” 

As an example of a fellowship recipient, the Times highlights Amanda Heidenreiter, an Army captain who suffered multiple disabilities in Iraq and later regained her footing as a civilian through the organization’s support. During her Mission Continues fellowship she worked at Paws for Purple Hearts, an organization that trains service dogs to support veterans with disabilities. Heidenreiter found her work so rewarding that she now volunteers for the Mission Continues in Washington alongside a full-time job in the intelligence field. To honor Veterans Day next week, she’ll be leading a group of fellow veterans to revamp a school in Baltimore. “When I’m a project leader, I’m in charge again,” she told the Times, adding, “I was afraid when I got out that I could not transition those skills.” —Anne Eigeman