A one-stop shop for Pierce County veterans services opened with fanfare Wednesday, launching a project that aims to provide one-on-one assistance for military families in need as the Army carries out a postwar drawdown.
The nonprofit organization Rally Point 6 has been helping military families since March, when it held a soft opening at a former real estate office near Lakewood Towne Center.
Now it’s up and running with a fully renovated building and nine “scouts” charged with guiding military families to civilian careers, veteran benefits or emergency services.
The group aims to help veterans make sense of the sometimes overwhelming resources that are available to them following 13 years of sustained war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The help could be as simple as reformatting a resume, or as complex as guiding a homeless veteran to emergency care.
“How do you get someone to the right door the first time?” asked retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Anne Sprute, a Rally Point 6 founder.
Rally Point is well-connected in the South Sound. Its office includes space for counselors from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs and Workforce Central, two organizations that have been helping military families find stability in the civilian sector.
The News Tribune wrote about Rally Point 6 in May . Since then, the group has assisted 662 military families. About 25 percent of the people who have come through its doors sought help with finding work; another 22 percent were looking for assistance with their veterans benefits.
Rally Point 6 is opening for business as the military carries out a significant reduction in force from its Iraq War peak, when the Army had about 562,000 active-duty soldiers. The Army could shrink to a force of fewer than 450,000 active-duty troops in the next few years.
Meanwhile, the rate of unemployment among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is higher than among civilian peers.
“We’re going to draw down and a lot of men and women that have served honorably will transition from the force. It’s organizations like this that will ease that transition,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, the senior Army officer at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and a supporter of Rally Point 6.
Past efforts to create one-stop shops for veterans in Pierce County have not had the same political muscle or close ties to JBLM that Rally Point 6 enjoys.
One of its founders is retired Lt. Gen. Bill Harrison, a former Lakewood mayor. The nonprofit’s opening drew several state lawmakers and Pierce County officials.
Retired Col. David Sutherland, a former Army brigade commander who has advised Rally Point 6, said the group will help veterans find their way outside of the military.
The recent veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan “are phenomenal,” he said. “They just need a little assistance in reintegration and transition and they will thrive. That’s what Rally Point 6 is here to do.”