More than 2.1 million service members were deployed as part of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.[i] Many of these individuals have left the military and returned to communities around the country, and many more will be doing so over the next few years. Altogether, there were more than 21 million Veterans in the United States in 2012, including more than 7 million Vietnam War Veterans[ii] who, like so many other baby boomers, are beginning to face the challenges that come with aging bodies and the life changes that accompany later life.
Many Veterans are doing quite well: Compared to the non-Veteran population, Veterans have a higher median income, a lower rate of poverty, and a lower unemployment rate.[iii] But many Veterans do face challenges. Veterans are almost twice as likely to have disabilities as non-Veterans are.[iv] They are overrepresented among homeless adults.[v] Younger Veterans have a higher unemployment rate than their counterparts in the same age group.[vi]
In return for the service that Veterans provided to the country, national, state, and local governments provide an array of services and benefits to Veterans designed to help support those in need and compensate those who experienced harm as a result of their service. These services represent a tremendous resource; but all too often, Veterans and their families are unaware of their existence or run into difficulties when they try to access the services, resources, and benefits available to them.
In order to address this challenge, states and communities around the country have begun to come together to improve the system of resources and services available to Veterans. Altarum Institute has been proud to contribute to this work. In 2008, Altarum began its Veterans Community Action Team Mission Project (VCAT), which, over the next few years, worked with community members (Veterans and non-Veterans) and organizations in San Diego, California, and San Antonio, Texas, to move toward a “no wrong door” approach to serving Veterans. While Altarum is no longer directly engaged in these communities (though Altarum staff do volunteer work for them), the coalitions that were formed as a result of the VCAT initiative continue to mobilize community members to plan and act to improve systems for Veterans almost 5 years after the systems were initially formed.
Altarum continued working on improving Veterans services over the years by evaluating rural efforts to coordinate services for Veterans and helping the federal government improve the marketing of Veterans’ health care benefits. Now Altarum is currently engaged with the state Veteran’s agency in Michigan, the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency, in an effort to move toward a “no wrong door” approach that enables Veterans to access information, services, and resources from a multitude of entryways.[vii] This work is underway in western Michigan in a region centered on Grand Rapids and in the Detroit Metropolitan area. In these areas, service providers and concerned citizens are coming together to discuss how to address the physical and mental health needs of Veterans, expand employment and educational opportunities for Veterans, and act to improve the quality of life for all Veterans and their families. These groups will come up with plans to address specific challenges identified through community assessments.
The Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency is committed to expanding a “no wrong door” approach to Veterans throughout the state so that Veterans can more easily access resources and services. Altarum is working with the agency to apply the lessons learned in other communities around the country to Michigan. This effort represents a tremendous opportunity in which state and federal agency representatives come together with local communities to provide more effective information about services and resources available to Veterans and their families and work together to ensure that those services are of the highest quality and designed based on cutting edge knowledge about what works in serving Veterans. This partnership will provide important lessons for other states and communities that are interested in addressing the needs of their Veterans and making sure that the services and benefits provided to those who served in the military are as effective as possible.
[i] Institute of Medicine. (2013). Returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan: Assessment of readjustment needs of Veterans, service members, and their families. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
[ii] U.S. Census Bureau. 2012 American community survey 1-year estimates. Retrieved from http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_12_1YR_S2101&prodType=table.
[v] U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2011). Veteran homelessness: A supplemental report to the 2010 annual homeless assessment report to Congress. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
[vi] IOM. (2013).
[vii] Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency. Michigan Veterans vision 2014–2018. Retrieved from http://www.michiganVeterans.com/mvaa/media/Site-Documents/PDFs/FINAL_Strategic_plan.pdf.