Veterans struggling to adapt to post-military life face a bounty of support resources, but poor coordination of those efforts potentially leaves them confused and without help, according to a new study released Wednesday.
Researchers from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University said many of the financial, medical and social problems faced by veterans in America can be traced not to a lack of assistance programs but instead to "a lack of collaboration, coordination, and collective purpose" between myriad government and community offerings.
"Notwithstanding the combined goodwill and determination across all sectors of our economy, collective efforts remain largely fragmented in addressing veteran and military family challenges," the report states.
The findings argue for a "collective impact" model for better coordinating efforts, establishing community leaders to rein in scattered local programs and simplify processes for veterans in need.
"We need to come up with better ways for veterans to pick and choose the best services for them," said Nick Armstrong, lead author of the report and the senior director for research and policy at IVMF.
"Every community is different, each has different needs and different veterans populations. But they can all benefit by working together better."
Researchers found that nearly 45,000 nongovernmental, nonprofit groups nationwide focus on veterans and military issues, many "largely going it alone in their efforts" to provide services.
"If ever there was a sector screaming for more collective activity, it is the veteran nonprofit sector," the report states. "Most communities are organizing efforts with little or no understanding of how to deliver high-quality, personalized models of services, resources, and care that match veterans' needs."
IVMF officials are in the midst of a 18-month pilot program for one such coordination model. The NYCServes project — which will be expanded to Pittsburgh and North Carolina this summer — has focused on reaching out to community service providers and leaders, emphasizing better data collection and a veteran-focused model for referrals.
Armstrong said the project is more a proof of concept than a blueprint, offering ideas for local communities to build their own networks.
The report notes that Veterans Affairs Department officials need to be better leaders in public-private partnership efforts, arguing that VA is not getting full value for the $160 billion-plus it spends annually.
But researchers also argue that caring for veterans is a national moral responsibility, one that stretches far beyond what government programs can provide.
"Wellness encompasses far more than sustaining physical health and fulfilling material need," the report states. "The VA was never designed to reintegrate veterans into civilian society, repair their existing social relationships or build new ones in the communities in which they ultimately settle.
"It is foolish to think that one federal agency, or even a few, can or should shoulder absolute responsibility for veteran wellness and reintegration — especially for health and wellness concerns that are both societal and local in nature."