With the help of a dedicated volunteer organization, veterans and military personnel feel welcome in Tyler and the surrounding area.
The East Texas Veterans Alliance, a regional network based in Tyler, offers assistance to veterans by networking with other organizations on issues such as education, employment, finances and legal issues, health, housing, transportation and veterans’ programs.
The ETVA, founded in 2014, estimates that there are almost 100,000 veterans in the East Texas region. Add in families, active duty military, and National Guard and Reserve members and that number more than doubles.
“If you look at the 2014 statistics from the VA (Veterans Affairs), there are nearly 17,000 veterans in the county alone,” says Jim Snow, president of the ETVA and a retired Army lieutenant colonel. “Between the veteran population, and what we estimate with their families, it makes up about 20 percent of the population.”
Interestingly, there is no military installation in the immediate area. Barksdale Air Force Base, near Shreveport, Louisiana, is about 100 miles east on Interstate 20, while the Dallas Naval Air Station at Grand Prairie, Texas is about 114 miles in the other direction. The massive Fort Hood Military Base is about 190 miles to the southeast.
Yet the area is rich with veterans of all ages, who the ETVA strives to help through its networking efforts by streamlining many of the often time-consuming processes, creating a one-stop shop for information for those in a 14-county area.
“If you look around our local area and out into the other counties, it’s kind of like anything where you’ve got businesses and government control, you’ve got duplication,” Snow says. “Basically, what we try to do as the ETVA is to gather the resources that these folks provide, and then provide that feedback and information to the veteran.”
“When you start talking to the young men and women who are leaving the service and trying to integrate back into the community, sometimes they still have that discipline and military mindset, they don’t know exactly who to talk to, what to say, or questions to ask,” he says. “And, then when I say there are multiple organizations that do duplicate efforts, it makes it a little more confusing to them. It makes it more convenient when they know exactly what organization to call and be pointed in the right direction.”
Priorities and needs differ individually, Snow says, depending on such factors as age, family and experience.
“It’s across the board,” Snow says. “When you talk to the younger folks who are trying to reintegrate into the community, one of the most important areas to them is employment, obviously.”
“For the older set, usually those veterans who have been out of the service for a while, it may fall to the health-care side of the house, [such as] how the VA can support their benefits and how they can project things out of that,” he says. “That’s why we, as an organization, work very closely with the Veterans Administration, business activities in the area, home health care and things of that nature. If you collaborate together, you can provide a heck of a lot more activity and support.”
The ETVA is associated with the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce, where Snow also is the chairman of the veterans committee.
“We do everything we can to help,” says Jenni Wilson, membership services administrator at the chamber. “[Snow] travels quite a bit trying to get veterans employed; he’s always got a table at all of our expos; and he volunteers his committee to help us.”
The ETVA coordinates with veterans offices at Tyler Junior College and University of Texas at Tyler, and also works closely with area businesses to promote employment for veterans, including recognizing participating businesses for their support. The ETVA also works with various county Veterans Service Offices and county clerks.
“We go to other cities within the state and participate in job fairs,” Snow says. “Not only do we bring the information about Tyler to those job fairs, we also bring relocation information. In other words, if you’re thinking about relocating somewhere in Texas, come take a look at Tyler.”