A new report this month from the Center for a New American Security sounds a clarion call for more private-sector involvement in the long-term care of the burgeoning population of Veterans from the current conflicts. Author Nancy Berglass writes, “DoD and VA, of course, bear the primary responsibility for the care of those who have borne the battle, but warriors come home to communities, not to federal agencies, and so it is at this crossroads of national obligation and social welfare that a new understanding of military wellness must take root.”
The report makes three key recommendations to address identified shortfalls. The first is developing and implementing a “national homecoming plan.” Berglass asserts that the military does a decent job of preparing recruits for combat, but that the institution does not adequately “de-boot,” or provide that long-term support that, especially, the wounded servicemen and women will need. The second recommendation is the establishment of a continuum-of-care model that enforces improved interoperability between the VA and DoD. And the third is an increase in public-private partnerships–with a vetting process that does not discriminate against smaller, non-military service organizations.
Berglass makes a convincing argument that has been echoed by many state agencies and non-governmental organizations for years. Their mantra “We take care of our own” may not be in the best interests of VA’s constituents, as it is ill-equipped to respond to the wide variety of Veterans in this younger, combat-tested population of returning service members and their families. “By their very nature, federal one-size-fits-all programs simply cannot apply equally to the unique circumstances facing, for example, an unmarried wounded Army Reservist from rural Iowa, as compared to a career Marine from San Diego who is returning home to three children.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen recognized this quandary at the 2009 Defense Forum (sponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute and the Military Officers Association of America) when he asked the audience somewhat rhetorically, “How do we create a system across America that sustains [Veterans’] needs throughout their lives?” It is clear that VA cannot do it alone. Local organizations—more nimble, better attuned to their populace’s demographics and in close proximity to them—are ideally suited to serve the needs of this generation of veterans that will require decades of support.
There are shining examples of non-profits outside the Veterans service sector doing enviable work. During this same speech, Admiral Mullen recognized the efforts of USA Together, a non-profit that matches service members with vetted organizations that can provide services—financial or in-kind. This clearinghouse quickly and simply connects military people who have an identified need with individuals or organizations that have services or goods to donate. It puts the needy and the service provider together with no third-party intervention or referrals.
Give An Hour is a nationwide, non-profit organization founded in 2005 with a network of mental health professionals that is providing free services to U.S. troops, veterans and their families—in the communities in which they live and work.
The state of Virginia is putting together a structure that includes a community service board with representation from all civilian organizations that can augment VA. This is being initially funded with $1.7 million out of the state budget.
Then-Director of Veterans Affairs for the state of Illinois, Tammy Duckworth, fostered the establishment of 768 community-based outpatient clinics to allow access to care in remote areas of the state. She also awarded non-profits that were working directly with Illinois veterans with state grants of up to $100,000.
Michael Dabbs, president of the non-profit Brain Injury Association of Michigan, said at the 2010 Defense Forum that his organization employs 10,000 workers in the brain injury field and says there are far more brain injury assets outside VA than inside the system.
Is VA taking advantage of all these outside resources available? Can they disavow themselves of the arms-length treatment that federal agencies and their lawyers give to all “non-federal entities” and embrace these non-federal initiatives and their innovative solutions? Do they have a process in place to quickly and efficiently augment their infrastructure with outsourced, vetted and complementary services from the states and non-profits?
Taylor Baldwin Kiland is the vice president of Marketing & Communications at the United States Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. A former naval officer, Taylor is also a regular contributor to Examiner.com and the Naval Institute Blog, writing about veterans’ issues.