The G.I. Go Fund, a veterans assistance program that began in South Brunswick, has its hands full as thousands of soldiers return to New Jersey as a result of the recent troop withdrawals.
More than 40,000 troops from Iraq will return home this year, and members of the G.I. Go Fund, which is now based out of Newark, will help them reassimilate to civilian life, according to Executive Director Jack Fanous. The program aids returning veterans in securing employment, meal tickets, gift cards, education advancement, homelessness assistance and connection to essential benefits.
More than 4,000 National Guard and Reserve personnel from New Jersey alone have been mobilized since Sept. 11, 2001, for service in Operations’ Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom, according to the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Fanous, of South Brunswick, said many of those veterans will face unemployment issues upon their arrival home.
“As our country winds down a nearly nine-year war in Iraq, now more than ever we need to help our returning veterans,” he said .
He noted that veteran unemployment has reached 30 percent, and many service members struggle to find jobs because they did not obtain a college degree before their deployment.
“Readjusting to life back at home with loved ones is enough of a challenge, so it’s a lot to take in,” he said.
The G.I. Go Fund is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 2006 by Fanous, his brother, James, and Alex Manis. They formed the organization after their South Brunswick High School friend, Second Lt. Seth Dvorin was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) during his 2004 tour in Iraq.
“We all loved him, and when he died, it was very stressful on all of us,” Fanous said. “We finally grasped what veterans deal with on a daily basis. They sacrifice their lives for us, so it’s our duty to help them in any way possible.”
That help often comes in the form of education on the advantages the Post 9/11 GI Bill provides. The G.I. Go Fund Transition Times, a quarterly magazine, highlights the bill’s benefits applicable to enrollment in college and earning a degree that will increase their job prospects.
Fanous said many veterans do not know about the benefits they are entitled to, as per the bill or otherwise.
“The bill will help pay for college, and they may not be aware of such thing,” he said. “We try to tell them where to go and what the best options are. We might recommend a technical school to better their chances of getting a job.”
Fanous said the increasing veteran employee base is going to start having a dramatic impact on at the state and national level.
“When employers see that these are the most skilled and diligent workers in the world, they are really excited about the opportunity to hire them,” he said. Fanous also mentioned that companies that hire veterans receive federal benefits, such as tax breaks, which act as additional incentives.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker offered the Fund an office in Newark City Hall, where veterans visit on a walk-in basis. Fanous said the mayor gave the Fund a way to be a “one-stop shop” for veterans.
“For three years, the G.I. Go Veterans Transition Center has assisted thousands of veterans from across our city and region to get the benefits they are entitled to and the support and love they deserve,” Booker said, in a statement.
Fanous said one of the fund’s most valuable services are its job fairs, which hundreds of companies, colleges and service providers attend. The next fair will be held on March 13 at Rutgers-Newark’s Paul Robeson Campus Center. Contact Deanna McLafferty at DMcLafferty@gmnews.com.