When she was younger, Airielle Macool-Cunningham, M.A. ’16, observed her father, a U.S. Army veteran, struggling for years to obtain the disability benefits he was owed. Macool-Cunningham wondered why the system was so difficult to navigate, which fueled her interest in helping veterans as a career.
Her passion led her to study at Adler University’s Online Campus for a Master of Arts in Psychology: Specialization in Military Psychology. While a student, Macool-Cunningham began working at Volunteers of America of Illinois, providing services to veterans experiencing homelessness. She helped veterans achieve long-term stability by locating housing, applying for their veterans’ benefits, and increasing their financial literacy.
Since graduating, she’s continued to work there and was promoted to Director of Veteran Peer Support and Housing Services for the True North Project.
“My degree made me as competent as I could be without being a veteran myself,” Macool-Cunningham said. “I have an understanding of where they come from and what they’ve been through. I never could have been this militarily culturally competent if not for my education.”
Macool-Cunningham said her work involves fighting the injustices related to generational poverty that many veterans faced before their military service. “Many veterans are low-income, and they are facing barriers that are a result of their military service,” she said. “They may have a service disability, either mental or physical, that prevents them from working. But many don’t know they are eligible for education and medical benefits.”
There are no typical days at work, Macool-Cunningham said. While managing a team of service coordinators, she helps veterans in crisis find housing, builds partnerships with housing organizations, and talks to veterans who want a friendly ear as much as support services. She also advocates to get more landlords to accept the housing vouchers that veterans and other low-income people use.
“The work is incredibly rewarding,” Macool-Cunningham added. “We’re really making an impact in the lives of veterans. I don’t believe I could be doing this without my educational background.”.