Illinois Joining Forces (IJF)

Harvey MorrisPodcast, VSO Partners

Transcript of Road Home Program: The Podcast, Episode 15

We go in humbly to ask them, “How can we assist you?” instead of going in as a big shot and trying to tell them what they should be doing.”

Illinois Joining Forces (IJF)’s Senior Director of Development, Jim Dolan, shares how IJF coordinates and connects veterans to helpful organizations in communities of all sizes throughout the state. 

Will Beiersdorf, Executive Director at The Road Home Program at Rush: Good day, everybody. This is Will Beiersdorf. I’m the Executive Director here at the Road Home. And this is the Road Home, the podcast. I know, Chris always likes to say, “Will, you got to say, the podcast.” I get it. Thanks, Chris Miller. But hey, again, I’m the Executive Director of the Road Home Program. And, again, I’m with Jim Dolan today. And Jim, I just want to make sure, you’re the Senior Director of Development, right?

Jim Dolan, Senior Director of Development at Illinois Joining Forces: Correct. 

Will Beiersdorf: At, at the Illinois Joining Forces, and we’ll refer to it as we go through as IJF. And again, we’re grateful to have Jim with us today to learn more about what Jim and his team is doing for veterans at the Illinois Joining Forces or the IJF. But before I kick things off, I just want to take a quick minute just to share with you a little bit about the Road Home Program. So, if you’re just joining us for this podcast, we do a series of podcasts highlighting different services and programs that we do, but also talking about our peers and partners. And that’s what we’re doing today with Jim Dolan from IJF. But real quickly the Road Home Program, we’ve been caring for veterans and their families since 2014, those that are dealing with the invisible wounds of war and life, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma, you’ll hear us refer to it as we go through the conversation; PTSD, TBI MST. And again, maybe some other challenges that men and women and their families may be facing, you know, around those things. And again, at the Road Home Program, we’ve got a great team, servicing these men, men and women. And we have an outpatient program, as well, as you’ll hear us talk about this a little bit, the Intensive Outpatient Program, the IOP. And again, it’s two weeks of intensive therapy and care that we provide to veterans or families and again, not just here in Illinois, or in the Chicagoland area, but throughout the country. So, as you’re listening to this podcast, again, we’re located again, here in Chicago, Illinois, part of the Rush University Medical Center. And again, Road Home Program has to date served probably well over 2,800 veterans and family members. And again, not just veterans and family members, but veterans, military current, you know, drilling, reserve National Guard or active duty so, so I just wanted to touch upon those things. And if you want to learn more about the Road Home Program, you can go to Road Home Program, that’s all one word dot org Or you can go to our web, you know, go to the website, or you want to call us at 312-942-8387. Again, 312 942 VETS. So, let’s talk with our guest, Jim Dolan. So Jim, tell us a little bit about yourself and the work you’re doing at, you know, at IJF, at Illinois Joining Forces. And again, you and I have been working together doing things for many years, so you might want to touch upon that. But just give the audience a quick snapshot of who you are, a little bit of your background, and again, the work that, some of the things you’re doing with IJF today.

Jim Dolan: Thanks, Will. Great to be on with you. And great to kind of reminisce a little bit about how we got to know one another. Actually, I have you and Mary Beth and Salute to blame for my working in the veteran space. So, I’ll just tell that quick story first, and then give a little bit of an overview on IJF and our partnerships. IJF frankly, would not exist without our partners, including the folks at Road Home. Road Home and the teams that we work with around the state are the ones that really do the work and provide the services to veterans and their families. And we’re thrilled to be on with you, Will. So I don’t know if you remember this, but prior to my getting involved with veterans working for the Loris Foundation, I worked in the database business. We had our offices in Schaumburg and Salute had been up and running for a number of years. I think this was probably back in 2006 or 2007. You guys had been doing great work for a couple of years by then. And all of a sudden I walked up to the front desk where the receptionist was and there was this bright green flyer that was on the table and your team was doing a great job of just going around handing out these flyers. And it was for a pizza party. I think it was a car buff night that you were doing for the, for the marathon. So pizza and pasta. In any event, just on a lark, I said, “Where did that come from?” She said, “Well, somebody just dropped it off.” And I said, “Do you mind if I take it and make a copy of it?” She said, “Well, no, nobody else, you take it.” So I took it, put it in my pocket. And it happened to be, Will, on my birthday. February 23rd. And my family was out of town. Nobody wanted to spend my birthday with me. So I went to that pizza party alone and literally changed my life. I had an opportunity to see what Salute and you and Mary Beth and the team were doing, I got to meet Yuri and Amy, who you and I have fallen in love with the years ago. And just a great couple and a great story about resiliency in the veteran space. So, from that point on, I got an opportunity to work with an organization called the Loris Foundation. Our mission was to advance the lives of people with disabilities. And we met with a lot of veterans who were suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injury. And that’s really how I got my start. And to tell you a little bit about IJF, IJF was formed in 2012. As a public-private partnership. We were formed with the help of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, the Illinois Department of Military Affairs, through legislation signed by Governor Quinn at the time, to stand up an entity that could fill in the gaps between the very good veteran service organizations that existed throughout the state, but there wasn’t one entity, one organization that was charged with the task of making sure that those gaps were filled and connections were made. So, in a word, that’s what IJF was destined to become is a connector, to connect service members, veterans and their families to the services in the community that they need and deserve. And to connect organizations one to another. So, our connection to Salute was really the beginning for me, and our connection to Road Home, as obviously it continues to this day. So I’m happy to talk about how we function and how we’re structured. But that kind of gives you an overview of how we got started and how I got started working with veterans.

Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, Jim, and that was a great, perfect stopping point right there because again, so I make sure the audience folks know, so yeah, it’s kind of a weird kind of, you know, phenomenon that’s occurred. So, so Jim was talking about Salute Inc. and it’s something that Mary Beth, my wife, and I started after I came back from my service in Guantanamo. Back in, I was there from September 11th pretty much after, unfortunately, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and also in Shanksville. Those things that happened, our reserve unit, my Naval Reserve unit was deployed all across the nation, or, you know, the world, excuse me, and I was sent down to Guantanamo and spent a little less than a year down there. And when I came back, we wanted to pay it forward because folks had helped us. And that’s how I kind of got into it. I mean, I was in my service. And then Mary Beth was involved in quite a few things and, in essence, we formed Salute, which kind of started things off. And, again, it’s still going strong. It’s a big advocate and supporter of the Road Home Program. If you want to learn more about Salute Inc.,, you can go and learn more. But Mary Beth runs that and I have had the privilege and the honor to come here to Road Home Program to, actually back in 2013 under Dr. Pollack, and with the support of McCormick Foundation, and Crown family, and so many others, here in the Rush University, you know, Medical Center community, as well as Chicago community. They gave us the opportunity to, or gave me the opportunity to come here and to start this program, which we call the Road Home Program, helping veterans and families dealing with the invisible wounds of war in life. So yeah, it’s weird, you know, Jim, how things circle, you know, around and the relationships you have. And yeah, we’ve been working in this community for quite a long time. And again, I’m thankful. And yeah, Yuri and Amy. I mean, if anybody wants to, you know, Google, Yuri, and Amy Zims Lee, you can learn a lot. I mean, that is definitely, you know, you know, remember in the Sun-Times? A love story, right? You know, about, so, and Amy and her family are saints. And people can learn about that, but, but I want to continue the conversation with Illinois Joining Forces here with Jim Dolan. Again, if you’re just joining us, this is the Road Home, the podcast and we’re talking with, with Jim Dolan from Illinois Joining Forces. And so, Jim, so tell folks a little bit more about IJF. Again, it was formed in 2012. I know it was, it was initiative, actually kind of at a national level. I think it was Dr. Jill Biden, and then First Lady Michelle Obama, right? They were part of, I think, the kind of big national push, and then we were thankful to have at the time, Governor Quinn, you know, at the helm, right, I believe, to help you know, work and do as he was a big advocate, and to this day, is still being advocate for, for the military and veterans. But share a little bit more about IJF today here in Illinois and the work and the things you’re doing and some of the services and programs that you provide.

Jim Dolan: Great. Well, you’re right about Governor Quinn. He really was as governor and continues to this day to be a great advocate. And so, at the very beginning, what was envisioned was an organization, an overarching organization, that could pull together veteran service organizations, to collaborate with one another, and to be at the ready to take referrals from one another. So, your mention of Joining Forces out of the First Lady’s, the Office of the First Lady, Michelle Obama, and Jill Biden, we actually took the name Joining Forces from their initiative that began back during that administration. But we, the First Lady, in fact, was very kind to send a letter of congratulations. We really didn’t have a direct connection to them, but they were that spurred the notion of having local collaboratives or statewide collaboratives. And, Will, that has begun to really take hold around the country. When they started it, and when Illinois Joining Forces was formed in 2012, there were maybe two or three statewide collaboratives coordinating care for veterans and their families. Now, there is, virtually every state has at least a, an organization or a government entity, maybe it’s the Department of Veterans Affairs within that state, that’s helping to put together this team. I think you and I both benefited from being involved on the ground. So, that when you came to Road Home, you kind of had a sense is, what do veterans actually need? Right? What is their experience like? Whether they make a smooth transition, or whether they have an injury, whether it’s traumatic brain injury, posttraumatic stress, there’s all kinds of things that veterans and their families need when they return from service. So, the two pillars that makeup Illinois Joining Forces are our care coordination center. And I’ll do a little bit of a commercial. We have two veterans that man those phones. And they can be reached at 833 INFO IJF. 833. INFO IJF, the numeric on that is 463 – 6453. So, I’ll say the number again, 833 INFO IJF. 463 – 6453. Any veteran family member, caregiver, survivor can call that number to be able to be directed to services. In a lot of cases, we have those resources at our fingertips. If it’s from a part of the state where we don’t have coverage, our guys do a great job of wrapping their arms around the family and the veteran to find the resources in the community that they need. And when Illinois Joining Forces was first formed, it was thought that we could put a platform, an online platform where veterans could self navigate. And it was a good tool and a good tactic. But it wasn’t a complete strategy. What we recognized was they needed a guide, they needed some sort of navigation, in order to be able to, at the time navigate through what General Mullen called the “Sea of Goodwill”. There are a lot of service organizations out there doing good things and have been doing good things for a long time, but not everybody knows how to connect to them. So, the veterans that we have at 833 INFO IJF act as a traffic cop. A traffic cop’s responsibility is to direct people where they want to go and keep traffic moving, as opposed to an EMT. An EMT will take a knee with somebody, triage them and get them to the next level of care. Our partners in the community, including Road Home Program, are the EMTs. And our guys want to get them into the hands of our partners, those EMTs, as quickly as possible so that they can get those services. There’s one other pillar that I can talk about. But if you have any questions on that, or if you want to…

Will Beiersdorf: No, I just want to just say that I think that’s a perfect analogy and, kind of, what you’re doing and please describe that. Yeah, but tell the folks about the second pillar again, the second area of focus.

Jim Dolan: Well, the second area of focus really came because we recognize that we couldn’t be everywhere and we couldn’t know everything about the local community. And as you know very well, services are best delivered closest to home. So, several years ago, we launched an initiative called the Veterans Support Community Initiative and what that is, is us connecting to community collaboratives throughout the state. And some of them are, have been doing this work and have been meeting together networking and connecting in their communities for a long time. Some of them were very well established, some were just fledgling. So, we began to connect with them. I’ll tell a quick story, Will. I spent 18 days on the road. Several years ago, I stole my wife’s car because it had a hitch on it. And I drove out to the arsenal in Rock Island and rented a pop-up trailer from the MWR. And when…

Will Beiersdorf: I remember this, yes. (laughs) 

Jim Dolan: Yeah. So, I took that trailer. I lived in it for 18 days. I was showering at the road rangers and the truck stops. And but what, what it did, it gave me a great opportunity to get around the state. The rap on IJF for a while was that it’s, it’s great what you’re doing in Chicago, but we don’t see you much down here and below I-80 in central and southern Illinois. So, we kind of broke through the I-80 barrier. It gave me an opportunity to meet with folks. If somebody couldn’t meet me, I would drive to their location and, like, park the trailer there and I’d meet him for lunch at the McDonald’s or the you name it, just to be able to get into the community and identify who’s doing what, and how can we collaborate with you. Frankly, it was just a great experience for me because Illinois is known as, at least in Southern Illinois, a lot of folks think of Chicago as being in another state. And in some ways, it’s true. Chicago, Illinois, is a very big state. It’s very rural. And there’s a lot of veterans that come from small towns in central and southern Illinois. So, we wanted to make sure that we had coverage there. So, the Veteran Support Community Initiative is really our attempt to connect to the community to support these collaboratives. We’re connected out in Rock Island, as I said, in Quincy, Illinois, Springfield, Peoria. We’re, in fact, doing an environmental scan for Effingham where Road Home has their one of their locations. You guys, I think have seen the same thing that we do. It’s all well and good that we have great programs in Chicago, but how do we help the folks that are in central and southern Illinois. So, the Veteran Support Community Initiative is really designed to make sure that we’re not looking at, or not assuming that every community is the same. They’re not. They have limited resources, they have different needs. So, it really gave us, Will, a great opportunity to learn, to listen and to make sure that we were there to stand at the ready. And we connect them back to our care, our care coordination center so that we can help too, as kind of a backup, to make sure that if they need additional resources that IJF is there to support them.

Will Beiersdorf: Right. And no, no, you again, there’s a lot there. And you know, you make a good point if, and again, for the folks that might be just joining us, I’m Will Beiersdorf, Executive Director of the Road Home Program. This is the Road Home, the podcast, and I’m with Jim Dolan, who is with the Illinois Joining Forces. And Jim and I have been talking about the work and things that they do here in Illinois, and especially in the Chicagoland area. Yeah, I mean, I’m, I’m a Chicagoan. You know, I grew up in the city. I didn’t really know there was anything else other than Chicago, you know. And you talk about that I-80 barrier, you know, I’ve heard of that before, but it’s like, yeah, the north kind of stays, you know, northern part of Illinois and Chicago is up here. And then everything else is down south. And that was why we made a concerted effort to actually establish a presence down in Effingham, Illinois, you know, as a start. You know, Blake Schroeder, Dr. Schroeder is leading the effort down there and I know he works closely with you, Jim. And you guys work with him. And so, you know, there’s so many folks in that community. And, you know, we’re also just an FYI, from a Road Home perspective, we’re taking advantage of Telehealth in the virtual care that we provide. We’re still struggling with getting across state lines, but (coughs) excuse me, but um, but people forget Illinois is a big state. There’s a lot going on here. So, and again, IJF does a great job of trying, you’re, I mean, really you’re trying to bring people together. You know, you want educate and let folks know about the services. And like you said, you know, ask the question. And we do the same thing here at home. What do you need? Before we tell you what, what we want to give you or how we can help, we got to listen, right? And I think we do a good job of that. So, talk about that, Talk about the care coordination and the team there. Because, you know, when folks do call, what’s the process there? You know, you know, who is actually in that center, too? You know, who are the some of the folks that work there? You know, in connecting, you know, being that, what you said, traffic cop,

Jim Dolan: Right. So, I’m glad you asked, because they, because they’re behind the scenes, because they’re on the phones, they don’t get the recognition that they need, but they’re two of the best. Michael Smith is Navy. Will Bryant is a Marine. In fact, if somebody wants to call the Call Center, they’d be doing me a personal favor, because they’d be interrupting those two from bickering back and forth as to who took who to which war and who was who. But really great guys. And, as you know, Will, and I’m not a veteran. So, my father served in World War II. So, I grew up in a military household and didn’t even know it until I got in the veteran space and I looked back and recognized some of the signs.

Will Beiersdorf: Right. 

Jim Dolan: He, he flew cargo missions in the South Pacific. His brother was involved, my uncle, my namesake, James Augustus. Gus was involved in the in the invasion of Normandy. And these two men never talked about it. Never. And the only thing that we really knew about my dad’s service was from his footlocker that he kept. And after he passed, we had an opportunity to go through it, and really get a sense as to who this man was before he was our father. And so I think I’ll make the point there, Will, and I think you guys do a great job of this, is to make sure, you talked about listening, right? So, one of the things that has to be listened to are the stories that veterans want to tell and need to tell. And we as a community need to be ready to listen. Because if we forget these stories, if we forget the heroics and the struggles of not only the veterans, but their families, then we really miss a big part of our history as a nation. And that’s why when we go into these communities, like Road Home, we go in humbly to ask them, “How can we assist you?” instead of going in as a big shot and trying to tell them what they should be doing. These people in, in small communities and large have been doing this work for a long, long time, and they don’t get the recognition and the support they need. And that’s what IJF is designed to do. To recognize them as partners in the community, they know their communities better than we do. And again, we believe that services are best delivered closest to home because the whole idea behind transition is to move from having been in military service, having served honorably and dedicated and to be able to transition back into civilian life and to reconnect into their community. The veterans that are really struggling are struggling because they don’t have those strong connections. And those connections to communities literally can save lives.

Will Beiersdorf: Right? No, totally. You said it well, Jim. And again, take the time to listen, right? And listen to their story and let them kind of tell you what’s going on, right? And again, we’re grateful, you know, for folks to serve, too. And you know, I want to bring up one other point, too, from a Road Home perspective. You know, when folks, you know, when you go online, and again, this is, you know, the Road Home, the podcast, I’m with Jim Dolan from IJF, and I’m, Will Beiersdorf, the Executive Director here at the Road Home. I just want to make one other plug, too, about the Road Home Program. Yeah, so we basically take time to really listen, right, to what the vets need. They don’t always need, and many times or, you know, sometimes the mental health care that we provide. But we believe in this one, this one focus of, if a man or woman has put a uniform on, you know, we, whether they served a day, an hour, 32 months, you know, 32 years, whatever it is, and even if unfortunately, at times, maybe they’ve experienced less than honorable or dishonorable discharge, we’re still opening to, open to helping them. So, I want to make sure I get that message out to the community that’s, you know, the Road Home Program, you know, we’ll listen and see how we can help, you know, you and your family who might be struggling with some of these challenges, regardless. And the other thing, too, regardless of ability to pay, you know. So, because we’re, you know, so supported by philanthropic interests, we can do that. And so we’re very thankful for that. I know that’s the same thing with Illinois Joining Forces. So, so Jim, hey, as we wrap up here, I think, is there anything else we’d like to share, you’d like to share, you know, with the community? Whether they’re folks that don’t know, or maybe currently looking, whatever it might be. But is there anything else you can, we can put out and share with the folks about IJF? And, again, maybe reiterate the phone number and the website, but anything in particular? And then one thing other thing, Jim? Sorry, (laughs) is, you know, just a just a general thought from you? You know, you’ve been in this community for all these years, that you can pass along to folks that are looking for help or, you know, struggling? If there’s one thought you have for folks to kind of empower them, right, to take, take that step?

Jim Dolan: Thanks, Will. I’ll finish with the last thought, but just to reiterate, any veterans, so like Road Home, we serve all branches, all eras, all manner of discharge, which is critical, because those with less than honorable or dishonorable discharges don’t have access to the services that they need. But there’s, they still served, and we’re here to serve them. So, I’ll just say a couple things real quick. If somebody wants to call our toll-free number 833 INFO IJF, 463 6453. Our team of veterans can help them navigate through any of the things that they might need. It could be VA benefits, VA, health care, education, financial support. And, Will, only about 20 to 25% of the calls that we’re getting have anything to do with military service whatsoever. The other 75 to 80% are everyday things, leaky roofs, busted pipes, broken heaters, transportation, financial assistance. So, don’t hesitate to call to be able to help have us help you navigate those services within the community. So, I’ll finish with this one thought, Will. When we go out into the community, we often quote Lincoln from his second inaugural where he said that, “We are to bind up the nation’s wounds. We are to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.” And when he said those words, we don’t believe that he was talking about a federal bureaucracy or even the VA. That didn’t become the motto of the VA until 1959. When he said those words, then, and I think through history, he’s saying it to us now, that we are to bind up the nation’s wounds. We are to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan. He was talking to every person in every community, that it is our obligation to serve those who have served. So, for your listeners, whether you’ve served in the military or not, just take a minute to look around your community to find out how you might be able to give back to provide support to someone who might be a veteran who could also be your neighbor, and give that, give the time and the energy to be able to provide that support. There aren’t enough veterans who have served, only about 1% of the population has served in the current conflicts. We need all of our citizens to stand up, recognize that veterans and their families need the support. So, if that’s, there’s anything I can leave your listeners with, this is an all-in effort by the community to provide the support that veterans and their families need and deserve.

Will Beiersdorf: Right. Well, well said, Jim. Well said. And again, kind of goes back to you know, the theme, you know, or the name of your organization. Illinois Joining Forces, right? Joining. Coming together. Rallying up. Yeah, there’s just not enough of us that have served and again, I’m grateful for all that you’ve done, Jim, you know, over the years. And so, as we wrap up today, just let folks know. So, I’m talking with Jim Dolan from the Illinois Joining Forces. And if you’d like to learn more about Illinois Joining Forces, again, Jim, the number the website real quick one last time?

Jim Dolan: The website is  The toll-free number to our care coordination center is 833. INFO IJF, 463 – 6453. We’re available Monday through Friday from 8 to 5 and here to serve those who have served.

Will Beiersdorf: Right. And again, if you’d like to learn more about the Road Home Program, you know, you can go to Road Home Program, It’s all one word or you can call us at 312-942-8387 Again 312 942 VETS. So, Jim, thanks again for your time today. Again, we’re really grateful for all the things that you do. Today, you’ve done yesterday, and many yesterdays ago. And I’m glad you’re at IJF, you know, working on behalf of our veterans and their families. So, so again, if you want to learn more, Jim gave you information out and it’ll be on our website, as well. But we’re, we’re thankful and grateful for your service. And also make sure you take time to thank Mike and Will, too. I know that all the heavy lifting, you know, in the Call Center. Thank them, as well. And I’m sure they’ll never resolve their differences between the two different services that they worked at, right? So, anyway. So again, Will Beiersdorf. This is the Road Home Program, the podcast again, and just want to say thank you to Jim, Jim Dolan, from IJF. Thank you, Jim.  

Jim Dolan: Thank you. Will. Really appreciate, thank you for all you do and all the folks at Road Home.

Will Beiersdorf: You’re welcome. Have a good day. Take care.


About Road Home Program: The Podcast

Veterans have served our country, now it’s our turn to serve them. Road Home’s Will Beiersdorf talks with veterans and their families about their journeys transitioning to civilian life. During every episode you’ll hear from subject matter experts, like Rush clinicians, staff and community partners, discussing resources and services available to veterans to help them heal from the invisible wounds of war. Subscribe, download, or listen to other Road Home Program podcast episodes.

The Road Home Program provides mental health care and wellness to veterans of all eras, service members, and their families at no cost and regardless of discharge status. If you or a loved one needs help, call us at (312) 942-8387 (VETS) or fill out the Get Care form.