To address veterans issues, it takes more than a village

America’s veterans deserve a genius cluster of their own. In Charlotte, they have fortunately found one.
America’s veterans deserve a genius cluster of their own. In Charlotte, they have fortunately found one. HANDOUT

“A World in Crisis, and No Genius in Sight,” is the title of a recent Peggy Noonan piece in which she writes “…today, we are a world crying out for bigness, steady hands and steady eyes.” Noonan laments, “We could use a genius cluster.”

As two veterans that have run state-level veteran advocacy agencies, including right here in North Carolina, we contend that America’s veterans deserve a genius cluster of their own and in this Charlotte community, they have been fortunate enough to find one.

Noonan writes that it was a genius cluster, “that invented America.” She goes further to suggest such a clustering – FDR, Churchill, and deGaulle – also saved it. For the genius clusters to emerge they require deep crises – “Historic figures need historic circumstances,” writes Noonan. “Historic” could describe the disconnect that our nation’s service members, veterans and their families face in a time when fewer than half of one percent of the population has served since the attacks of 9/11. Historic could also describe the well documented failures to address the needs of these heroes when they return home.

If our nation is to retain its all-volunteer armed forces, our approach for welcoming these assets back into our communities requires immediate and collective action. Fifteen years into a long war, the all-volunteer force is stretched at a time when budgets to arm, much less care for, our troops are contracting. The good news is that here in Charlotte, bold, creative leadership is busy upending the status quo.

To tackle complex social problems, Collective Impact initiatives have begun to address issues such as educating America’s youth, reducing recidivism, and transforming health care. Its basic tenets involve creating a common agenda, shared measurement, mutually beneficial and reinforcing activities, continuous communication and, importantly, establishing a backbone organization to champion the initiative. In a handful of communities, Collective Impact approaches have rebooted the veterans’ services sector.

One such community is here, in Charlotte, where a renaissance is underway thanks to the early leadership of a respected veteran-centric nonprofit, the Charlotte Bridge Home. CBH hasn’t accomplished the lift alone. Rather CBH positioned itself as the hub of a trusted wheel that, in partnership with Mecklenburg County, Goodwill and many others, has transformed access and quality of care within the veterans’ health and human services sector. The momentum of the Charlotte genius cluster attracted state and national level partners, all shepherded by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, which has cross-pollinated lessons learned here, in the regional effort now jointly known as NCServes, and shared them with similar “Serves” efforts taking hold in other cities across the country. As part of this localized effort with national reach, leaders from Pittsburgh to Seattle are sharing best practices and introducing disruptive innovation and proving once again the impact that genius clusters can have on the trajectory of human history.

One year in, NCServes has helped transform the means by which this community now cares for its transitioning service members, veterans and their families. By meeting veterans and their families where they are, the “NCServes” effort has reached 300 percent more veterans and their families in the network’s first year than at any other point in its history and delivered a 500 percent increase in closed casework across the network provider base. NCServes stands as testament that it takes more than a village. It takes a community with genius.

Colonel (Ret., U.S. Army) Jim McDonough and Ilario Pantano lead IVMF’s AmericaServes initiatives. Email: and