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Helping Veterans Adapt in the COVID Economy: The GI Go Fund Focus on Employment

By Carolann Murphy, PA


Transition from military service to the civilian sector presents challenges for veterans, especially for those with disabilities. With recent shocks to the economy caused by the spread of COVID-19, these challenges are magnified. Among the organizations dedicated to helping veterans is the Newark-based GI Go Fund, a nonprofit that assists veterans with finding employment, accessing housing, and claiming their educational and medical benefits.

Employment initiatives, implemented with community partnerships, are a major focus of the GI Go Fund, according to CEO and co-founder Jack Fanous. One initiative, Disabled Veterans to Work, enabled veterans with disabilities to work from home, providing customer service for PSEG, a New Jersey utility. The Disabled Veterans to Work Program, which was funded initially by a Kessler Foundation community employment grant, has expanded to other major cities, where Fortune 500 companies are staffing their U.S.-based call centers remotely with veterans with disabilities. “This program helped show that working from home benefited employers, as well as workers with disabilities,” noted Fanous, “a concept that has rapidly gained widespread acceptance with the closures of corporate headquarters and businesses made necessary by measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

The GI Go Fund is home to the Jackson Drysdale Veterans Center, an incubator for veteran-owned small businesses that is the only center of its kind in New Jersey. The current crisis is stretching the resources of the Center, which anticipates a tripling of the number of veterans seeking assistance. The Center remains open with the help of a COVID Emergency grant from Kessler Foundation. “This additional support means we can provide microloans to our veteran entrepreneurs,” said Fanous, and assist them with applications for disaster relief, including options available through the Small Business Administration.” 

Fanous is also CEO and co-founder of JobPath, a technology platform that connects veterans and employers, and includes a unique system for matching military skills with civilian jobs, resources for job preparation and training, a database of jobseekers, and a job board where major companies list open positions. Justin Constantine, a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel, is the chief development officer of JobPath, which has a growing list of major corporate clients such as Apple and Panasonic, and more than 200,000 active veteran users.

To ensure the support of employers, JobPath partners with SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) the largest membership organization for human resource personnel. “Human resource professionals are key to the recruiting, hiring, onboarding and retention of veteran employees,” said Constantine, who has SHRM certification. Supported by the Drysdale Center, Constantine developed an elearning series for SHRM members, providing knowledge of best practices for diversifying the workplace with veteran employees. There are plans to expand the elearning series to help employers recruit civilians with disabilities and jobseekers who have histories with the criminal justice system.

“Tools that can support transition to the workplace are critical to adapting to the post-COVID economy,” Constantine said. “JobPath is a flexible platform that can be adapted and scaled to help other groups overcome barriers to the workplace, and connect employers with the talent they need.”

JobPath is integral to a timely new collaborative project of the NYC Department of Veterans Services and the GI Go Fund called Empire Vets, which helps place veterans seeking jobs in the vicinity of New York City. To start, the focus is on placing veterans in critical support positions for COVID-19 response efforts. By bringing together JobPath’s powerful platform with the resources of local businesses, universities, nonprofit organizations and government agencies, Empire Vets has the capacity to support the transition of veterans to thousands of civilian jobs throughout the New York area.

Based on the June 6, 2020 National Trends in Disability Employment report.