It is not easy to get a room full of busy community leaders and service providers on a regular basis, but every month, the San Diego Veterans Coalition (SDVC) is able to do that. The SDVC is a group of more than 130 partners working together to improve services for veterans and their families in the San Diego area. The roots of the SDVC go back to 2009, when Altarum Institute met with city, state, active-duty, and Veteran leadership in the area to discuss how the Institute could help support the community in coming together to improve services for Veterans.
Altarum staff and consultants, completed community assessments, and provided technical advice and leadership from which the SDVC was created. Key efforts included developing a “no-wrong-door” approach for Veterans or providers so that Veterans learned of their potential benefits post-military service and where to find them. Altarum staff helped local community leaders provide current focus and action plans to help reduce “silos” in service delivery. The SDVC created a common Mission, being a “catalyst that inspires collaboration and cooperation among service partners,” and a Vision that “made the San Diego region a national model for comprehensive, integrated system of community services.”
Local veteran community leaders were selected as SDVC chairs; Board of Directors (BOD) members were appointed; and the Strategic Goals of Communications/Outreach, Collaboration, Integration, and Advocacy were derived from the community assessment and tasked through working groups chaired by BOD members. Early successes were seen in the onset of monthly meetings that grew into daily work in the support of a Veterans Treatment Court developed by a SDVC partner who has seen more than 20 justice-involved Veterans graduate from the program, completing therapy in lieu of time in jail.
There are currently 40 more veterans in the program now. Also, the Veteran Transition Assistance Program filled a gap helping hundreds of veterans learn of their benefits until active-duty military members were assisted by the development of Transition Goal, Plans, and Success program started in 2013. An SDVC partner started the Reboot Veteran Integration Program, currently touting 1,000 graduates. 2-1-1 San Diego joined the SDVC and established an information call-in line, which receives 1,000 calls each month, providing assistance to Veterans and their families. The SDVC has helped place Mission Continues interns in job settings and has been a key part of the Military Transition Support Program, with pre- and post-discharge pilots of 200 transitioning active-duty members and their families. The collaborative work of the partners forms an “umbrella” collection of independent 501(c)(3) groups that communicate and cooperate to reduce redundancies in service delivery.
The SDVC is also a 501(c)(3). We have standing-room-only attendance at each meeting and were selected by San Diego County to recommend the direction of $400,000 in Mental Health Services Act money in 2010 and 2011. Related discussions have facilitated funding Veteran programs in the area supporting key needs for justice-involved Veterans and communications counseling for couples in which one spouse or partner returned home from overseas deployment via the Warrior to Soul Mate Program (W2SM), an SDVC partner. With these funds, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs W2SM program gained such good results that it was infused with $12 million for this program nationally. The SDVC is now among the key Veteran organization in the San Diego region and, at the time of this writing, will be a part of the collaboration efforts for a summit of the major leaders this summer.
The San Diego region includes 125,000 active-duty military members and 225,000 Veterans, 30,000 of whom are from the current wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. One example of the work of the SDVC involved a Veteran with Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issues who came to the SDVC and, as the IRS is a member, received a “no-wrong-door handoff” and tax help that saved him thousands of dollars. Furthermore, two original members of the SDVC merged their similar programs in the Camp Pendleton area, combining 41 years of experience in Veteran service to coordinate delivery in the fastest-growing area of needs in this area for Marines leaving military service. The work is to help find jobs, health care, education, and quality of life in their transition from active duty to civilian life.
Retired Col. David Sutherland, former director of Warrior and Family Support for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the keynote speaker for the state-of-the-art summit that marked the completion of the first stage of development of the SDVC in March 2011, said, “Our Veterans are not coming home to government programs. They are coming home to our communities.” Then and now, the collective efforts of the SDVC have helped improve the information flow to Veterans who need service and to the community that delivers those services.