Hundreds of nonprofit, business, government and military leaders gathered in San Antonio on Tuesday to share ideas about how to better serve local military and veteran communities.

The Bob Woodruff Foundation’s “Got Your 6 Summit” brought together the foundation’s national network of organizations focused on helping veterans, service members, their families and caregivers, as well as local organizations and government leaders.

Woodruff was a reporter for ABC’s “World News Tonight” on assignment in Iraq in January 2006 when he was injured in a roadside bomb targeting the U.S. and Iraqi forces he was with on patrol. After recovering from life-threatening injuries, Woodruff and his wife created the foundation.

The first “Got Your 6 Summit” was last year in New York City. Foundation organizers partnered with the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County for the second summit. 

Conversation at the “Got Your 6 Summit” revolved around the unique challenges facing the military and veteran populations in Bexar County.

Significant population growth in San Antonio during the past decade fueled opportunities for military families but also increased challenges for access to medical care and affordable housing, food and childcare, according to a Center for a New American Security report from November 2022,

United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County’s community impact committee chair Ed Rice told participants that according to the organization’s research, one in five veteran families in San Antonio, about 30,000 families, live above the poverty line of $30,000 a year for a family of four — but below the $61,000 level estimated to meet basic housing, food, childcare and transportation needs.

“Recent surveys show nearly 25% of enlisted families are experiencing food insecurity, and it’s getting worse,” said Kathy Roth-Douquet, president and CEO of Blue Star Families, a global group focused on advocating for U.S. military and veteran families’ needs.

Military families of color experience food insecurity twice as often as do white military families — 15% compared to 7% — and spouse unemployment is the number one reason families cite for food insecurity, according to Roth-Douquet. People who want to work but are not employed are experiencing food insecurity at twice the rate than when both spouses work, and Hispanic military families are particularly hard hit by lack of employment.

The summit also focused on mental health concerns and helping families navigate a convoluted network of agencies and care providers. Carrie Bair-Norwood, chief development officer for Project Sanctuary, which operates no-cost retreats for military families in Texas and Colorado, said she has seen success most often when a family is treated together. 

“Building stronger bonds within families is preventative,” she said. “We can help them band together and be a resource for referrals to get care from other agencies.”

After last year’s first-ever “Got Your 6 Summit” in New York, organizers looked to hold this year’s event in Bexar County. They partnered with the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County, as well as Craig Newmark Philanthropies, to put on Tuesday’s summit.

“There were lots of places that we might have gone next, but San Antonio is really special. Not just because we have a strong partnership with the United Way, but also the proximity of active duty military,” said Dr. Meg Harrell, the Bob Woodruff Foundation’s chief program officer.

Claire Ganci and Christina McAllister stepped away from the classroom for a day to share ideas about how to better serve San Antonio’s military families, particularly children.

Ganci and McAllister both teach at Garner Middle School near Fort Sam Houston. They help children of military parents adjust to their new school and community with the assistance of resources from Student 2 Student and the Military Child Education Coalition.

Citing research that student performance improves when they quickly assimilate into a new school, Ganci and McAllister mentor teens on how to welcome military students who arrive each semester, as their parents move to a new assignment. 

Reassignment to a new community affects more than school success, said Delia Johnson, vice president of operations at the Military Family Advisory Network.

The cost of moving, spouse unemployment, growing families and unexpected financial costs like car repairs are the primary reasons for food insecurity in military families, according to a recent survey by the advisory network.

Moving is not unique to military families, but compared to their civilian counterparts, families in uniform have less choice over where they go and move more often. Military families who moved in the past two years reported they paid an average of $8,000 in out-of-pocket expenses after being reimbursed by the government, according to Roth-Douquet.

Making connections between the resources that exist and the military families that need them is the focus of the “Got Your 6 Summit,” said Anne Marie Dougherty, CEO of the Woodruff Foundation.

“What keeps me up at night is how can we ensure that every military-connected individual, no matter where they are or where they choose to live, has access to the resources that they’ve earned,” Dougherty said.

The Bob Woodruff Foundation has donated more than $124 million to community groups serving emerging and long-term needs of veterans. As a next step, the groups participating in Tuesday’s summit are eligible for $1,000 grants to continue their efforts.

“What I’d really like to see is some of the organizations that met for the first time here today still talking, still collaborating, still working on behalf of the military veteran community,” Harrel said. “I think I would call that a success.”

Todd Vician

A retired Air Force colonel, Todd Vician is a freelance writer who was previously the director of public affairs for the Air Education and Training Command at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph.