Michigan has the 11th largest Veterans population in the country and, as of 2013, ranked last (53rd of 53) in federal benefits received per Veteran. Unemployment for Michigan Veterans (7.3%) was higher than the national average (6.2%), and thousands of Veterans were returning home to Michigan, adding to the dilemma.

That same year, the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) was established with the singular focus of ensuring that the state’s Veterans receive the service, benefits, care, and support that they need and have earned, whether their needs are specific or simply for support in transitioning back to civilian life. At the same time, thousands of government, private, and nonprofit services were/are available to provide assistance for such things as health care, education, employment, and quality of life, but a persistent lack of coordination creates barriers to access.

To address these issues, MVAA engaged Altarum in the fall of 2013 to implement the Veterans Community Action Teams (VCAT) Model throughout the state to improve the Veterans service delivery system. The VCAT model is a national best practice that has been piloted, implemented, and sustained for more than 5 years in San Diego, California, and San Antonio, Texas, by service providers, advocates, volunteers, and other community leaders who demonstrate their support every day.

As part of an internally funded initiative, Altarum invested $2.5 million and 26 months of staff support in the model, demonstrating a deep commitment to improving services for Veterans. After the completion of the San Diego and San Antonio pilots, both communities continue to improve the lives of Veterans and families. And as ongoing endeavors, the San Diego and San Antonio programs provide valuable feedback for future service improvements.

Michigan is the first state in the nation to implement the VCAT model statewide. More than 2½ years later, the state has experienced a more than $1 billion increase overall and a $1,750 increase per capita in federal benefits received. It is community members working together that improve outcomes for their Veterans. Many boots-on-the-ground initiatives contribute to improvement of how Michigan Veterans are being served by more than 1,200 organizations/2,400 service providers throughout the state. Providers report impressive benefits from collaboration with other providers in the Michigan VCAT:

  • 92% have formed alliances with other VCAT participants that strengthen their service capabilities.
  • 80% have served more Veterans.
  • 85%–90% have served Veterans more completely.

Moreover, the Michigan VCAT project was awarded the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) Seven Seals Award for 2015, which recognizes significant organizational achievement supporting ESGR’s mission to promote supportive work environments for Service members in the Reserve Components through outreach, recognition, and educational opportunities. Major component of the VCAT model are described below.

No Wrong Door

A key feature of the VCAT model is the leadership team that, in a facilitated setting, can identify community-wide problems and networking activities that can have the most collective impact. Local stakeholders and service providers that are constructively engaged within the community are routinely identified for early stakeholder interviews and may be ideal candidates to serve in a leadership capacity. The no-wrong-door philosophy creates a system of care that improves connectivity and coordination of services in the community and provides them with much-needed support in making referrals to providers of different services.

Over the past 5 years, Altarum has conducted numerous Veterans focus groups that have helped us better understand why there continues to be insufficient knowledge of available services:

  • Many Veterans are simply paying insufficient attention during demobilization, because they are singularly focused on going home.
  • Many Veterans have difficulty understanding the benefit application process.
  • Many Veterans believe that they will not require benefits.
  • Many Veterans have expressed the sentiment that they would have been more receptive to learning about benefits after they had been home for a while.
  • Service providers are unaware of which Veterans are in their communities.
  • Service providers are unaware of which service providers are in their communities and what these service providers do.
  • Service providers may not have the capacity to completely serve Veterans.
  • Veterans’ family members are not eligible for benefits for Veterans’ services or aware of benefits available to their Veterans.

The VCAT model’s no-wrong-door approach to service access and delivery attempts to address the stovepipe nature of Veterans’ services. Our experience at Altarum has shown that through effective, community-driven coalitions of service providers, we can ensure that Veterans, however they come into the system, are effectively channeled to the services that they need and have earned.

For more information on Veterans working to overcome job barriers, please read this article from The Grand Rapids Business Journal.