Zero8hundred: A model for transitioning our veterans and their families to civilian life
When I was first elected to Congress in 2013, I met with retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Ronne Froman, who had formerly commanded Navy Region Southwest in the congressional district I represent. I told her I planned to form a veterans’ advisory committee and asked her to lead it. In her no-nonsense Navy fashion, she promptly turned to me and said, “Scott, that’s a terrible idea.”
She explained that San Diego already had hundreds of well-intentioned and well-run veteran support groups, and the last thing we needed was a congressman forming one more. What we really needed was a way to make veterans aware of all these groups, a way to help them navigate them so they could find the ones best suited to provide the unique help he or she required. And most important, we needed to help new veterans find jobs. From this conversation came the concept for zero8hundred, named for the start of a new day, and a new community approach to connecting service members and their spouses to resources and opportunities. Zero8hundred is a military transition support project I helped launch in San Diego, where we have the third-highest number of veterans of any county in the U.S.
Every year, more than 20,000 sailors and marines stationed in San Diego leave military service and roughly a third choose to stay. While some choose to use their GI benefits to go back to school before finding employment, most of these skilled men and women are focused on starting their next careers right away. They just need to get connected to job resources and potential employers who will benefit from their skills and experience.
This initiative was originally funded by grants from Blue Shield of California, WebMD Health Foundation and the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation. An organization called San Diego Grantmakers convened a wide array of San Diego non-profits, businesses groups, educational institutions, staff from my office and military leaders, who pooled their expertise and connections to help shape the program. They met every month for nearly two years. During that time, they developed a community support framework based on a Veterans Wellness Model made up of four key pillars critical to veteran success: education and jobs, basic needs, health and personal connections. They hired staff to implement the program, which included a web-based portal that links veterans to thousands of vetted resources. And they reached a formal agreement with the Navy — the very first of its kind in the nation — that allows instructors to introduce zero8hundred to active service members at on-base transition classes before they are discharged. This provides a direct link to the program so service members and their spouses can opt in as “VIP clients” from nine months prior to separation to twelve months after.
The zero8hundred team found office space and began hiring Peer Navigators — veterans and military family members with graduate-level training in social services. These Peer Navigators provide clients one-on-one counseling and referrals to make sure they are getting the precise help and support they need. Navigators work with veteran clients by phone, typically every three weeks, during the critical time before, during and after transition.
Zero8hundred was formally launched in early 2015. In just more than two years, the program expanded to six bases, and on-base transition classes have been presented to over 20,000 active duty sailors and marines. About the same number of unique visitors have used the web portal to access community and employment resources. And about 2,200 military men and women, or their spouses, have opted in for personal support from a Peer Navigator. Of these, nearly 70 percent of those looking for jobs were employed within the first three months after separation from the military. The program has been so successful in San Diego that the Orange County Community Foundation funded an expansion of it into that county and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation is funding expansions into Riverside and Imperial Counties.
I often say the best ideas come from outside of Washington. In the case of zero8hundred, this is certainly true. And all of this happened without a dime of federal funding and without an act of Congress. It is my hope that zero8hundred becomes a national model for helping our veterans and their families.
Peters represents California’s 52nd District and is a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.