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Those of us who have been in the military as service members, spouses or children of service members have come to recognize a certain way of life. Most of us have been stationed in areas that are primarily military and the communities that surround these large military installations are very in tune with the military community that supports them.
In Tampa, things are different.

MacDill Air Force Base has a small active-duty force of only about 12,000 compared to Fort Hood or Camp Pendleton with over 40,000 at each location. There is a large workforce on MacDill that are related to the military either by prior service or as GS Employees. This number is more than 7,000 people.

Now, take into account the incredible number of veterans who live in Greater Tampa…98,000 + in Hillsborough County alone. There are a whopping 1.5 MILLION veterans who live in the state of Florida.

What this means is that the normal support systems military families are accustomed to are not as present in Greater Tampa as they are at larger military locations. For spouses, Family Readiness Groups (FRGs), Family Readiness Officers (FROs), and Family Readiness Assistants (FRAs) were who they turned to for support. In a community like Tampa Bay, these networks are absent leaving both the veteran and their families searching for resources and assets from the civilian population.

For those who are not prior service, there is a lack of understanding as to the unique challenges veterans and their families face as they assimilate into the civilian world. This is not because they don’t care…. they simply don’t share the life experiences of a veteran family.

The Veteran Approved Network known as VAN (Veteran Approved Network) was established to provide a free space for veterans and their families to find resources, businesses, organizations, mentorship, camaraderie, events and more with the level of trust and respect they have earned and grown accustomed to. The Network is a true consolidated portal of resources and organizations consisting of people, businesses and organizations who have devoted their work and mission to the military community.

The beauty of VAN is that there is benefit for all. For the veteran, free vetted resources and for the businesses, a way to give back to the veteran community.

Business Members and Organizations pay a small annual membership fee to be a part of the Network. They also adhere to a strict Code of Conduct and participate in the Vetting Process as part of their membership. Membership dues paid by these members are then used to hold events, seminars and training that are free to veterans.

The most inspirational thing is the fact that there are actually hundreds of great organizations in the Tampa area that support veterans in countless ways. If you are a veteran with a need, I feel certain there is an organization out there that can help. What we found is, there are so many assets for veterans but no easy way to find them. With VAN, veterans have one place to turn to find all of the goodness that exists for them.

Our mission at VAN is to continue to grow the goodness for veterans and their families. We seek out the very best businesses and organizations in Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas counties to join the Network and become a part of this unified effort.

VAN’s 2023 calendar is packed full of amazing veteran events that focus on camaraderie, health and healing, employment, education, and networking all designed to bring the civilian and military community together.

Whether you are a veteran or civilian we ask you to consider joining VAN and becoming an integral part of this great effort.

∙ Toni Hedstrom, Founder | President Veteran Approved Network

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