There is a better way to empower America's veterans
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There are approximately 200,000 veterans who leave the service each year, but these warriors rarely receive the holistic support that they need to address their unique concerns during and after the transition to civilian life.

Two key problems that contribute to this reality are: Resources available to veterans are scattered and provided by disconnected agencies at the local, regional, state, and national level; and most of these organizations do not know their customer, the veteran, and their family.  

As veteran service organizations (VSOs), non-profits, government agencies, and policymakers consider the best ways to care for our nation’s warriors, it is critical that they understand these challenges faced at the community level and how they can better support veterans.

At my organization, America’s Warrior Partnership, we have found that coordinated, proactive outreach to local veterans is one of the keys to filling these gaps in services and unifying scattered resources. In the affiliate communities that we support, 63 percent of veterans are connected with the services they need through proactive outreach from an organization, while only 37 percent of veterans served are walk-ins. Most importantly, this approach is working.

Our third-annual Community Integration Survey, unveiled in May 2017, revealed that in communities where coordinated, proactive outreach occurs, 93 percent of veterans feel greater satisfaction and believe that the community cares for their well-being.

Veteran service organizations that embrace this strategy of proactive outreach often employ similar approaches to improving veteran well-being in their communities. Here’s an overview of four methods that VSOs, non-profits and other organizations can use to improve the services they provide veterans.

Understand the Unique Needs of Local Veterans

Every veteran is unique, which means organizations must conduct thorough research to understand the needs, interests and communication styles of veterans and military families that live and work in their communities. Some VSOs and non-profits may be surprised to learn that the services their local veterans value the most are different from what they expect.

As an example, one would understandably think that urgent assistance is the most sought-after resource among veterans. However, we found this was not the case when we conducted our Community Integration Survey earlier this year.

We asked veterans to identify the areas where they are currently seeking assistance, and the results indicated that recreation activities and connections with other veterans were two of the most sought-after opportunities. In other words, these veterans already have a good quality of life, but they are seeking opportunities to connect with their communities through peer networking.

With this understanding driving their decision making, organizations can prioritize events and services that help these veterans find networking and volunteer opportunities where they can connect with their community. Veterans come from all walks of life, so organizations need to regularly survey and research the unique needs of the warriors in their area to develop services that truly help improve their quality of life.

Collaborate with Other Veteran Service Organizations

Many non-profits are hesitant to share information about the veterans they serve locally with other organizations. This walled-off approach contributes to the overarching problem of scattered, disconnected resources preventing warriors from receiving holistic support. Organizations and agencies need to understand that no one group can provide everything veterans and their families need.

Technology is a great way to foster collaboration between veteran organizations through efficient communications.  Information systems, such as Salesforce or our own WarriorServe™ platform, can streamline data collection and facilitate secure record sharing among veterans, organizations and community partners. Data sharing ensures every organization involved in supporting a veteran knows what they can do to help, while case coordinators have the comprehensive information they need to point warriors towards the resources required to solve an issue.

In short, organizations need to check their egos at the door and collaborate. Together, everyone can succeed.

Provide Volunteer Opportunities for Local Veterans

As was previously stated, many veterans are looking for meaningful opportunities to connect with their communities and other veterans. Organizations that tap into this desire can set up a successful situation for themselves and the warriors they serve. Non-profits and VSOs can access a passionate group that’s dedicated to their mission, while veterans can achieve their goal of doing something meaningful in the community.

In addition, a group of trained volunteer warriors are an effective team when it comes to proactive outreach. These volunteers understand what’s meaningful to other veterans and will help organizations ensure they are prioritizing preventative measures that address the concerns of veterans and their families before they can escalate into life-threatening problems.

Ensure Veterans Know “What’s In It For Them”

While every veteran is unique, their lives are very similar to those of non-veterans — their schedules are busy, they have many responsibilities and little spare time. There’s no room in their lives for meaningless events, and unfortunately, there are many veteran-centered occasions that leave attendees with the sense they are getting nothing out of attending.

Non-profits and VSOs should seek to provide opportunities and services that enhance veteran lives by connecting to their established interests and lifestyles. Rather than conducting generic outreach or hosting events simply for the sake of hosting them, organizations should develop diverse programming that provides veterans something they need but can’t get anywhere else. No veteran should participate in an initiative or bring their family to an event and end up wondering, “what’s in this for us?”

Organizations that make it clear their veterans can build meaningful lives in their communities will find themselves one step closer to success.

All in all, these methods and tactics all center around providing coordinated, customized services to veterans that empower and actively engage them with their neighbors. Organizations that balance proactive outreach with collaboration and periodic re-assessments of sought-after resources will be on the path towards creating a supportive community where veterans want to live.

Jim Lorraine is president and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership, a national non-profit that helps veteran service organizations connect with veterans, military members and families in need.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.