State & Local Systems Change

Meeting Unmet Needs for Veterans:

American policy makers are often times not having the right conversations when it comes to veteran outcomes. While well intentioned, the dialogue and debate around meeting unmet needs for our veterans has centered around three main areas:

  1. The Veterans Administration and its budget and failings and the federal governments role overall in solving the challenges faced by our veterans
  2. How to improve local social services systems with small, underfunded state veteran department budgets that in many states only administer veterans homes and cemeteries
  3. How to symbolically recognize veterans at the local level, through legislation that names bridges, public places and schools after them

The VPLI posits that there is a considerable gap in the national policy dialogue that must be addressed before real progress can be made. We argue that the biggest gains to be made in changing the lives of veterans and military families will come from evidence based policy and systems change at the state and local level, leveraged with sustainable partnerships with private industry and philanthropy. It is these local systems, when informed with data on veterans, models on effective policy outcomes for this population, and leveraged by partnerships, that can provide long term solutions to what are essentially local problems.

In the meantime, the VA budget goes up by 10% each year, and the debate rages on about how to solve wait lists and clean out backlogs, and thousands of America’s veterans are still failing. Failing to find and sustain meaningful and high quality employment. Failing to access high quality health care and to address their mental health and physical needs, and failing to financially sustain their families. Others are failing to reintegrate into the communities and neighborhoods that they called home before they went to war. These challenges occur in cities and small towns across America.

And while this robust VA and federal policy discussion takes place, it is states, local governments, and communities that are now beginning in earnest to attempt to tackle these issues, and many are recognizing the incredible gulf that still exists between the desire to do right by veterans and military members at the local level and the lack of good data, evidence based policy making models and systems that could inform effective investments in the systems that would produce the change we seek.

All of this is occurring while the US is in a period of massive transition. Thousands of men and women are leaving the military for civilian life as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down. At the same time, once plentiful resources from communities and all levels of government are beginning to dry up. The development, implementation, replication, and scaling of proven, evidence-based practices at the state, local government and systems level is more critical now then ever.

The return on investment is incredible for today’s veterans, resulting in more productive workers, a higher educated workforce, more stable families, reduced health care expenditures, and more efficient veteran and civilian service networks. Just as the return on investment is high, the cost for getting these next ten years of transition for our men and women in uniform wrong is unacceptably high. While each state will be forced to address the challenges of these transitions according to their own means and will, without a centralized clearinghouse of best practices, a focus on data-driven policies, and an insistence on developing and leveraging public-private partnerships, resources will inevitably be wasted.

The VPLI is working through strategic partnerships, data driven analysis, and model development to meet the unmet need for change and advance outcomes for veterans at all levels of our communities.