military flags

Connecting veterans to benefits, services

By

Brandon Chiz

Transitioning from military to civilian life can be daunting to many veterans — especially if they don’t have a strong support system to guide them through it. 

Arizona State University alumni Danita Rios and Joanna Sweatt are hoping to fill that gap. Rios and her team are helping veterans who are looking for benefits and services after leaving the military, through their nonprofit website called the Veterans Directory.

It all started in 2012 when Rios was approached by a Marine vet who had served in Vietnam. He had attended a military funeral service for a friend who had committed suicide and lamented that his friend might still be alive if he had a type of “yellow pages” for service men and women. That inspired Rios to create an informational database that partners with veteran-friendly organizations to give to those who have served.

“We wanted to get the veterans connected to the services and people who are already out there,” Rios said. “For the most part it’s been word of mouth up to this point.”

In 2015, TheVeteransDirectory.org was founded — and it quickly expanded. The website provides information for employment, education, benefits, health and wellness as well as a calendar that displays events each month.

With its growth, the organization increased its staff, adding Sweatt as its chief operating officer. Sweatt served in the U.S. Marine Corps for nearly 10 years and worked at ASU’s Pat Tillman Veterans Center after her service.

woman talking

Joanna Sweatt, ASU alum, Marine veteran and chief operating officer of the Veterans Directory, talks about the new veterans-resource website that she and four others are building, at the East Valley Veterans Center in Tempe on May 24. The site is first designed to assist vets in Arizona, with goals to become a nationwide advocacy source. Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

 

“We’re interested in creating access that you can trust. We will host everyone who does something viable for veterans, and doesn’t exploit them,” Sweatt said. “We want to put the power back to veterans and let them know we have real-life, in-person experience to report, to give.”

ASU student and Army veteran Brian Fore used the directory to connect with other veterans and gain employment as a videography freelancer.

“I can use the directory to look for internships, or for opportunities for myself and others,” Fore said. “Really, it's a one-stop shop. It doesn’t just cater to one thing; you're able to look up information and it makes sure it provides everything you need.”

Right now the site focuses on Arizona, but Sweatt says the group is moving to expand in the Southwest and hopes to expand nationally over a three-year process.

“There is no other .org out there that is taking the time to put together all the resources and have that be their sole mission. We hope to be the sole .org that does this and helps veterans access resources from wherever they are located,” she said.