Army Veteran Rick Kelling first heard about the ETS Sponsorship Program from his peers who were searching for a point of contact to join them in the Pacific Northwest region. The ETS Sponsorship Program (ETS-SP) is a non-profit organization with nation-wide reach.

Upon researching the organization, Kelling found the program filled both a need and a gap for service members transitioning back into civilian life.

“We’re all working together to help that service member before, during, and after their transition,” Kelling said. “And you can’t forget what you’re here for. You’re here to do the best job you can helping people.”

Improving the transition experience

In alignment with the Veteran Sponsor Partnership Network initiative led by the National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships, ETS-SP supports service members and their families by improving the transition experience.

It helps them get ahead of possible challenges, such as employment, housing, education, or other social determinants of health. ETS-SP also helps them easily access resources that address those top priorities.

Kelling is the ETS-SP contact for the state of Washington. His decision to become a sponsor stemmed from wanting to give back to other Veterans.

“One of the things that endeared me to the program right off the bat is that it backs up what it advertises with the toolkits and policy documents they provide service members,” Kelling said.

Connects service member with a sponsor

The program begins at the service member’s final duty station, where they can request a sponsor from ETS-SP. Based on their relocation address, ETS-SP connects the service member with a sponsor in their destination community or finds another nearby partner available to assist them. Once connected, the sponsor provides resources and support to the service member throughout the transition to their post-military home.

After transitioning back into civilian life, Kelling found himself trying to find a new mission in his career. Because of his own experience, he understood how to provide guidance as a sponsor to service members. In addition to career assistance, sponsors help service members file disability claims and navigate the VA claims and enrollment processes.

Kelling said this was a priority for him, regardless of the service member’s medical condition. They could be entitled to benefits, such as employment opportunities, education benefits, housing assistance, whole health services and mental and primary care.

Sponsor available regardless of discharge status

Service members can sign up for a sponsor regardless of discharge status or enrollment in VA. Sponsors are also trained to provide social support and help reduce risk factors related to Veteran suicide.

If you would like to help, get involved in local Veteran support organizations, increase awareness and advocacy of programs like ETS-SP, apply to become a sponsor.

Community organizations interested in supporting transitioning service members and their families can join HAP’s VSPN initiative, which helps Veterans access VA health and benefit resources. To learn more about VSPN, visit:

By Dr. Tracy L. Weistreich is nurse executive for the VA National Center for Healthcare Advancement & Partnerships

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Published on Dec. 15, 2021

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