Over six years ago, CalVet began offering a series of webinars to provide information important to California veterans and their families. While important then, they are even more vital today.
Consequently, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and effectively shut down in-person outreach and veterans events, CalVet already had the experience, technology, and audience to expand their online activity.
Three CalVet divisions – Women Veterans Affairs, Veterans Services through its CalTAP program, and Minority Veterans Affairs – all host live webinars and post recordings of them on their CalVet.ca.gov pages. It has been extraordinarily successful, with participation rising because the need for information is as great, if not greater, than ever.
Debuting in 2014, the Women Veterans Affairs monthly webinars hosted by Deputy Secretary Lindsey Sin drew great feedback that has helped shape the 2020 presentations.
“We get many notes of appreciation from participants who attend our webinars,” Sin said. “We’re always looking for topic ideas and want to ensure we’re presenting information that women veterans care about. So please, keep the ideas coming!”
Recent Women Veterans webinar topics related to the pandemic covered the importance of social networking while self-isolating, mindfulness and yoga to reduce stress, and the issue of increased reports of domestic or intimate partner violence.
The upcoming August 5 webinar will feature former Army officer, Christine Schwartz, CEO of Service to School, which mentors veterans who want to attend top-tier and Ivy League schools. Register here to attend.
“In the coming months, we’ll include topics on small business ownership, employment, personal financial health, and sexual assault and harassment in the armed forces,” Sin said.
“Since April CalTAP or the California Transition Assistance Program housed in the Veteran Services Division has held over 40 webinars, drawing nearly 2,000 participants collectively,” said Josh Zebley, CalTAP’s staff services manager.
Before COVID-19, CalTAP staff routinely visited bases to help those about to leave the military as they prepare to transition to civilian life. CalTAP also works with veterans attending California Community Colleges helping them to access their available GI Bill benefits.
And CalTAP connects veterans and their families with resources for PTSD and suicide awareness, working closely with USVETS, an organization that offers a variety of support programs to veterans, including for mental health.
“CalTAP continues to provide services as usual, just through webinars and Zoom meetings instead of in-person,” he said.
“We’re making sure we are able to provide services and basic information to service members and their family during this pandemic,” Zebley said. “We’re making sure they know we’re here for them.”
Recent recorded webinars, which are available on CalTAP’s web page, included resiliency through health and wellness; early suicide intervention; a three-part series covering access to claims, and compensation and legal aid.
Minority Veterans Affairs webinars have covered topics including; pathway to citizenship, LGBTQ discharge upgrades and a recent suicide prevention event. Collectively, they drew over 500 participants.
“The threat of COVID-19 has affected the way we do usual business and many of us miss the interpersonal experience that would normally be possible, prior to the pandemic,” said Xóchitl Rodriguez Murillo, Deputy Secretary, Minority and Underrepresented Veterans.
The division plans another webinar on the pathway to citizenship (Immigration 101) in August, followed by one on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal anniversary in mid-September, and a webinar on El Soldado in late September.
All of CalVet’s webinars are free and open to the public, though pre-registration may be required.
Indeed, CalVet’s outreach remains ongoing online, more important than ever as the COVID-19 restrictions continue.