In the wake of a scathing report by the Inspector General which found fault with how quickly the Veterans Administration responds to the needs of veterans seeking mental-heath care, comes the inevitable hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth regarding how poorly we as a society treat our veterans.
While it is far easier to point fingers at the VA than propose meaningful solutions, it is evident that we have a serious and growing problem on our hands. SFTT has reported earlier that government statistics suggest that 1 in 5 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffers from PTSD and that the VA is swamped with demands on the limited services they are able to provide.
The question should not be limited to how quickly the VA responds to requests by veterans seeking mental-health care, but an overall evaluation of the effectiveness of the health-care or therapy that veterans actually receive from the VA. Just because the VA is able to respond to a request for service within 24 hours is useful information, but shouldn’t the effectiveness of short and medium-term therapy and an evaluation of the overall rehabilitation of our veterans be the focus of any meaningful inquiry.
The magnitude of this problem in caring for veterans extends far beyond the treatment of PTSD as these statistics from John Kuhn, Acting National Directory, Supportive Services for Veteran Families (“SSVF”), suggests:
- Of the 26 million veterans in the United States, 13% became homeless at some point during the last year.
- Almost 1.4 million veterans live in poverty and women veterans are 3.4 times more likely to live in poverty than their civilian counterpart.
- The unemployment rate for veterans between the ages of 18-24 now approximates 30% or twice the average of their civilian counterparts.
While many good-intentioned people are well aware of the problems facing our veterans and many studies have been funded to develop solutions, it is evident that the complexity of dealing with these issues has overwhelmed the capabilities of our institutional care-providers. Yesterday, I attended a discussion hosted by the New York State Health Foundation on some of the challenges faced in providing “Community-Based Services for Veterans and Their Families.”
This fascinating discussion brought together care-providers and charitable organizations to determine how best to provide meaningful and effective services to our veterans. The presentations and subsequent discussion suggested that there is no clear unanimity of how best to deal with the “well-being” issues faced by veterans, but that a community-based response seemed to offer the best prospects for success. The Rochester Veterans Outreach Center was cited as an example of what can be done to mobilize local resources to help provide a community-based support structure for returning veterans. Indeed, many other towns and cities appear to be feeling their way to develop similar programs within their own communities.
The key catalyst for change is leadership within the community to address the needs of veterans. Those communities which appear to have the most resilient programs are those that recognized both the unique capabilities and needs of veterans and began the lengthy process of integrating the various local services, care-givers and donors to provide veterans with social services, education and employment possibilities that would probably have been overlooked in a “top-down one-size-fits-all” federally-mandated and managed program.
Clearly, essential and varied services provided by community-based and community-supported organizations seem to offer veterans and families a milieu of services that can be tailored to the needs and aspirations of each veteran. Unfortunately, these organizations often lack the visibility and/or capabilities to attract funding to support their initiatives. Furthermore, there is little in place to benchmark performance and provide a meaningful framework to replicate successful programs for other communities.
Sharing success stories and evaluating available community-based services is essential to develop a framework to guide civic organizations and funding entities to support programs that have a reasonable chance of being successful. For its part, SFTT and its newly created medical task force can help community leaders to develop programs that can attract the necessary resources to help change the lives of our brave veterans.
We are hopeful that community leaders will emerge and bootstrap similar programs to the Veterans Outreach Center in Rochester. The needs of our veterans are both varied and great and can be best met with inspired and dedicated local leadership supported by our Federal and State government institutions and charitable foundations.
Richard W. May