Tulsa, Okla., extends help to veterans
With 36,000 veterans representing 14 percent of Tulsa, Okla.’s population, Mayor Kathy Taylor has been marshalling community resources to better address their special needs and recognize their public service. In October, the city created a Veterans Advisory Council to coordinate with the police department, city-owned recreational facilities and private businesses to offer benefits to military service personnel, including Operation Patriot Watch, which monitors family members of deployed personnel. The city, in conjunction with the council, also created a Web site where military service members can find information on employment, transportation and state veterans departments. American City & County spoke with Taylor about Tulsa’s new veterans programs and how other cities can create similar initiatives.
Q: What programs and resources for veterans did Tulsa have before the new programs?
A: Tulsa had no resource center for veterans. We began by appointing a Veterans Advisory Council and assessing the resources that were available, putting them together and then seeing where the gaps were. [We began] adding resources and support not only to the veterans, but, just as importantly, to the families of those in active military service.
Q: What has the Veterans Advisory Council done to extend services to veterans?
A: We found, as we were looking at our homeless, that we had a significant number who were veterans. We’ve been able to gather very scattered resources and deliver them in a much more comprehensive way to veterans. We developed a Veterans Lounge at the Tulsa [International] Airport, not only to welcome returning members of the military, but also to ensure that they and their families had access to information. We provided an opportunity for them to sign up with the Tulsa Police Department so that, while they were deployed, we could have an extra security watch on their homes. We’ve provided [tax filing] assistance for them. Then, we’ve provided some fun benefits for them to be able to enjoy life with their [families], like [free admission to] our water park and to the Tulsa Zoo. People can sign up to have their returning service members welcomed home on the public address system at the airport. Those things really let our members of the military know that we appreciate their service.
Q: What additional veterans resources and programs does the city plan to implement?
A: We’re [working with our local community college to build] a Veterans Resource Center. We know we’re going to be having a significant number of our reserve and guard troops [coming] back, and we want to reach out and help recruit [them] into jobs that we know we will have available. We are working with the [Tulsa] Center for the Physically Limited to develop a local outpatient clinic for additional services for veterans.
Q: What advice do you have for cities that might want to create similar programs?
A: Bring all of these resources together — both public and private — so that there [is] a central and easy point of delivery for veterans and for members of the active military. For us, the success was in bringing together all of the resources and [involving] private businesses and individuals who just wanted to be able to show our troops and our veterans that we support them. Find someone who is passionate and knowledgeable about the veterans system, then begin collaborations and [assess] where the needs and gaps are.