Honoring Millennials’ Service

One year ago today President Obama signed  the Kennedy Serve America Act fulfilling one of his most important campaign promises to the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003). The legislation represented the biggest expansion of national service since FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Among other provisions, the bill

  • Established programs to involve middle and high school students in community service, including its innovative Summer of Service programs;
  • Expanded AmeriCorps openings over 8 years, allowing for up to 250,000 AmeriCorps volunteers by fiscal year 2017;
  • Expanded the National Civilian Community Corps' mission to include projects on energy conservation, environmental stewardship or conservation, infrastructure improvement, urban and rural development, or disaster preparedness needs; and
  • Established new volunteer Corps to engage Millennial's enthusiasm for such efforts including the Education Corps to improve schools, the Healthy Futures Corps to serve unmet health needs within communities, the Clean Energy Corps to work on energy projects, the Opportunity Corps to work with the economically disadvantaged, and the Veterans Corps to work with veterans and their families.

In return for participating in these service initiatives, the legislation raised the value of the full-time national service educational award that goes to participants in  the Corporation for National Community Service's programs to the maximum amount of a Federal Pell Grant. This will enable those who volunteer, to return to school after serving their country, just as members of the GI generation did after WWII.

In just one year, the spirit of the legislation has inspired countless new initiatives among Millennials, America's most civic-minded generation. Now Millennial led initiatives, such as myImpact.org and jumo.com  are building social network sites to link their generational cohort's desire to improve the world with opportunities for doing so.

One effort that deserves special mention is the recently concluded "Beyond the Welcome Home" Veteran's Summit hosted by one of  the leading Millennial service organizations, Mobilize.org,  in Carson, California. More than five dozen veterans of the Iraqi or Afghanistan wars, representing Millennial veterans from all branches of the armed services gathered for three days to identify the major problems facing returning veterans and develop service solutions to address their issues.  Joined by civilian Millennials and interested non-profits, the group used the latest in interactive technologies to prioritize the issues they wanted to address.

The four most important issues facing returning veterans that the group identified did not sound very different than those facing veterans returning from  earlier wars:

1.  Reintegrating veterans into civilian life so they can productively interact with civilians and society again.

2.  A lack of knowledge about programs and benefits post-separation for the armed forces that could help veterans with their return to civilian life.

3.  Suicide prevention to deal with feelings of lack of self-worth post-deployment and post-military that many veterans experience.

4.  Delays in receiving the health care and other benefits that they are entitled to due to poor communication between the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

But the solutions that received the most support  from the participants had a distinctly Millennial flavor. Many emphasized the group solidarity that Millennials feel so intensely. As one participant put it, "The way to deal with these issues is with veterans taking care of each other, just as we did in Iraq." Or as another participant said, "We need to do things ourselves, not have DoD do it. We always do better ourselves."

Millennial's determination to overhaul the institutions their elders built or, failing that, to start new ones was also evident in the suggestions offered at the conference. "We should use the established Veteran Service Organizations, but if they don't work, we should create new ones." One popular way to start new institutions was to create a "Facebook for Vets" site that could link all the sites Millennial vets are using into a single place to get all the information they need. 

Nor were the participants daunted by the challenge of taking on two of the federal government's biggest bureaucracies-DoD and the VA-through their generation's penchant for political engagement. Two comments capture the larger sentiment of the group. "We need to become active and aware of political issues that involve veterans and encourage our fellow Millennials to vote for legislators who support veterans' issues." "By sharing information and becoming advocates we can get DoD and VA to respond." 

Of the approximately 2 million service men and women who have served  our country so far in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 60%, almost 1.26 million,  are members of  the Millennial Generation, so these sentiments are certain to find their way into this year's political campaigns. Unlike the shunned and often reviled veterans of the Vietnam War, Millennials are returning to a society that respects their service. According to NDN's latest survey on America's 21st Century electorate, 64% of Millennials, as well as 78% of older generations, have a positive view of the nation's military. But more than  one in five veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 can't find work when they return home.

The country's appreciation needs to be translated into programs for veterans that are worthy of the honor this generation has brought to our country.  Three years ago, Mobilize.org established its Democracy 2.0 declaration which states that it is time "to act. . . to upgrade America's unfinished project of democracy." The organization has taken an important step along that path by hosting the summit and providing $25,000 to support the best ideas that flowed from the conference.  But as the nation observes National Volunteer Week, each of us should take a moment to commit to doing whatever is needed to honor the most important volunteers this country has-the members of the United States Armed Forces.

One way to do so would be to connect to any of the groups that earned support from Mobilize.org  for the work they were doing with Millennial veterans at the Summit, or to some of the other groups dedicated to helping America's next great generation contribute as much in their civilian life as they have already done in the military. This list is a great place to start honoring our Millennial veteran's service:

Athena Bridge

The Mission Continues

Veteran's Green Jobs

Team Rubicon


Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America