TIOGA COUNTY – Tioga County is starting a program geared at assisting military members with the transition back to civilian life.

The Tioga County Veterans’ Service Agency is receiving a 70 thousand dollar grant from the New York State Office of Mental Health to offer the Expiration Term of Service Sponsorship Program.

It’s an effort to combat the problem of veteran suicide in the U-S, which the Tioga Veterans Service Agency marks each year with its Field of the Forgotten Fallen.

Each flag signifies a veteran who has taken their own life.

Developed at Fort Drum, ETS connects service members who are retiring from the military with sponsors who can assist them with finding work, housing, medical care and access to their V-A benefits.

Veterans’ Service Agency Director Mike Middaugh says it’s modeled after a similar approach within the military of offering mentors whenever a service member is deployed to a new base.

“The other key piece to this is that sponsors do not need to be veterans. They can be anybody in the community that has a desire to help our men and women who are coming home. It’s just about wanting to take that next step with them,” says Middaugh.

Tioga is administering the program on behalf of 6 counties including Cortland, Tompkins, Chemung, Schuyler and Cayuga.

It’s the first time the program will be run outside of a military base.

Volunteer sponsors receive training and typically spend a few hours each month with their assigned veteran.

For more information and to apply to be a sponsor, go to ETSsponsorship.com.