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Help Along the Way: USO/AspenPointe Peer Navigator Program Guides Troops During Transition

Friday, August 30, 2013

By Joseph Andrew Lee  

Transitioning out of the military can feel a game of hurry up and wait.

“You work really hard to get your resume built and submitted just to get job offers you can’t take because it’s unlawful to start a job until you’ve officially received your [discharge papers],” said former Army Staff Sgt. Paul Hendricksen. “You get your G.I. Bill information all squared away and into the system just so you can wait until next semester because you don’t have the initial cash to get the ball rolling. It’s frustrating.”

The USO is working to change this in the Colorado Springs, Colo., area by partnering with 138-year-old community relief organization AspenPointe.

Since 1875, AspenPointe has enriched lives through behavioral health services, counseling services, career services and care management. One of the largest nonprofits in Colorado Springs, it started as the Springs Relief Society, delivering coal, lumber and clothing to the needy. It’s since evolved into a comprehensive, integrated system of care that addresses the overall wellness of each client whether they need behavioral health services, counseling services or career services.

With the assistance of a grant from the USO, AspenPointe’s Peer Navigator program provides free transition assistance services to troops, veterans and their families in the Colorado Springs community. 

Peer Navigators connect program enrollees to resources that address mental health, physical health, community integration and career development issues as they arise. 

“We’ve made that transition ourselves, so we’re able to give a voice to their experience, connect them with resources and navigate complex processes that only someone who has navigated them before would know how to do,” said Catherine Mayberry, Peer Navigator program coordinator at AspenPointe, who is also a non-commissioned officer in the Air Force Reserve. “For instance, there’s a short financial gap that happens when someone medically retires, between their active duty paycheck and their [Veterans Affairs] disability check. It helps to know that sort of thing and prepare for it before it causes a problem.”

Peer Navigators who work with transitioning troops and their families are veterans and reservists who understand the needs and complications troops face when transitioning to civilian life. They help troops identify the right level of care and appropriate services for themselves and their families, and can help explain complex military and civilian systems to make sure each transitioning family has clear choices.

“Based on the proven success of AspenPointe’s Peer Navigator program for our wounded, ill and injured community, the USO has expanded our support in 2013 to include active duty troops as well,” said USO Warrior and Family Care Director Kelly Dempsey. “AspenPointe excels in providing resources that complement those offered through existing base support programs to ease the military-to-civilian transition for service members and their families.”

For former troops like Hendricksen, who left the service as a single parent, a smooth transition isn’t just a nicety. It’s an absolute must.

“My son is everything to me,” Hendricksen said, “and there’s no way I would leave his well-being to chance. When it came time for me to transition out, it was resources I found through the USO [Peer Navigator and USO/Hire Heroes USA Transition Workshops] that helped me make 100 percent sure I would have food on the table for my son.”

For more information about the programs offered by AspenPointe, visit their website or contact the Rocky Mountain USO.

Photo caption: AspenPointe Peer Navigator program coordinator Catherine Mayberry helps transitioning troops in the Colorado Springs, Colo., area. Photo courtesy of AspenPointe  

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