Growing evidence on the neuroplasticity of the brain - the brain's ability to change and heal as a result of input from the environment - lends credence to early brain research that has demonstrated the curative effects of positive reinforcement, cognitive engagement, and meaningful responsibility on those with Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs). In February 2012, the results of a study by researchers at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found that "veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who participated in an evidence-based supported employment program called individual placement and support (IPS) - where they were placed in real-life competitive jobs, not in sheltered or set-aside jobs - were nearly three times more likely to gain competitive employment than those who received a standard vocational rehabilitation program." During the 12 month study, 76% of the participants gained competitive employment compared with 28% of the participants in the standard vocational rehabilitation program. This is significant at a time when a high percentage of veterans are unemployed; experience severe depression; are prone to high rates of homelessness, suicide and alcohol and drug addiction; and have struggled to reintegrate into civilian life.
For those recovering from PTS and TBIs, neurologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and educators from major research universities believe that a specially-designed program that includes:
- A team-oriented work environment with discipline and structure
- An affiliation with a group of peers working towards clearly defined goals
- Job-related and more general training including cognitive and emotional functioning in the context of work goals
- Focused medical, psychological, educational, and other support services
has the potential to be both emotionally and physically therapeutic; providing a sense of pride in accomplishment and competence; the ability to shoulder meaningful responsibility; and an entree to full-time employment and mastery over physical and emotional scars from combat experiences.
Civic Assets was launched following the success of the first Veterans Corps program, first piloted in 2009 by the Washington Commission for National and Community Service, with the support of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs. The Veterans Corps program was inspired by the Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009 which allowed for a dramatic expansion of service for Americans of all ages and set a goal of increasing the number of AmeriCorps members to 250,000 by 2017. It also expanded the participation of veterans in national service and authorized a national Service Reserve Corps which would consist of both former national service participants and veterans who would undergo annual training and be deployed to major disasters to provide disaster preparedness, relief, or recovery. In addition, the Act also increased the funds allowed for disability outreach and placement.
The Washington Veterans Corps enrolled 46 veterans as AmeriCorps members who were trained to assist new veterans to navigate their way through post-secondary education, creating campus and community service projects, providing follow up and support to members of the Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McCord, and providing outreach services to homeless veterans. Initial reports from this program indicate that not only did program participants assist thousands of veterans in need, but participants also significantly benefited from having the opportunity to serve other veterans. For some of these veterans, the opportunity to serve again helped them to address and to more fully recover from PTS and/or TBI, ailments that in the past limited their ability to fully function in the community.