The transition from military to civilian life presents many challenges for today’s Veterans. Today, the U.S. has been at war for 17 years in the wake of 9/11 terrorist attacks, with 3.5 million Americans having served in post-9/11 conflicts. Over the past century, a patchwork of organizations and services have evolved to support returning veterans and their families.
The Veterans Affairs Department is of course largest and most well-known, but other federal agencies also provide services, including the departments of Defense, Labor, Education, Health and Human Services and the Small Business Administration. States and many localities, along with more than 40,000 veteran-serving nonprofits and other charitable institutions also provide a wide range of services and care.
The reality that multiple federal agencies, along with their state and community partners, play a role in veterans’ successful transition out of the military and into the civilian world makes coordination in service delivery essential. However, such coordination remains a challenge, with the federal VA and its agency partners continuing to face challenges understanding each other’s roles, responsibilities, and community outreach.
Improving Care and Service Delivery for Veterans: A Case Study of Enterprise Government is a new report written by researchers at Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, with support from the IBM Center for the Business of Government. This report offers a set of building blocks, to help transform this patchwork of services into a network, along with providing key action steps and recommendations to put this approach into practice.
What follows are the building blocks, recommendations, and key actions steps to creating an enterprise Approach to Serving Veterans.
Five Building Blocks to Create an Enterprise Approach to Serving Veterans
Building Block One: An Appropriate Interagency Collaboration Mechanism—that sustains leadership engagement and participation, effective cross-agency planning and collaboration, and accountability for implementation actions.
Building Block Two: A Comprehensive Understanding of the Challenges to Delivering Effective Services and Care—by appreciating that the challenge of supporting veterans is multi-dimensional and should be defined in terms of meeting a range of needs, such as health, education, employment, family, housing, and income supports—rather than each need in isolation from the others.
Building Block Three: A Coordinated Set of Agency Core Competencies—by allocating effort and responsibility across agencies based on expertise, capabilities, and mission focus.
Building Block Four: A Robust Engagement Strategy with Community-Level Stakeholders—by regularly engaging with state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, and private sector stakeholders supporting veterans at the community level.
Building Block Five: The Effective Use of Technology and Data—by harnessing technology solutions that capture the perspectives of disparate actors, facilitate sharing of information and insight, and enable data-driven decisions in strategic planning and service delivery.
Recommendations and Key Actions Steps
Create and use a broad, enterprise interagency collaboration mechanism of sufficient scope and leadership seniority to guide overall policy, planning, and implementation of federal veterans’ services and care.
Key Action Steps
- The White House Chief of Staff should establish an overarching interagency group on veterans’ services and care, under the direction of the White House Domestic Policy Council, to align all federal policy, issue-based or ad hoc planning groups (e.g., multi-agency councils, task forces, committees, etc.), and agency programs across the federal government.
- In addition to every relevant agency that is already a regular participant on the Domestic Policy Council, this proposed interagency group should include the Department of Defense, the Small Business Administration, the Office of Personnel Management, and any other departments or agencies deemed appropriate based on their role in service member transition and support for veterans.
- As appropriate, the policy and implementation strategies developed by this proposed interagency group should be informed by foreign policy and use-of-force decisions made by the National Security Council, with the group’s Defense representative acting as a liaison to the Council.
Define, plan, and monitor progress toward the delivery of comprehensive support for veterans.
Key Action Steps
- The proposed interagency group on veterans’ services and care should develop a “whole-of-nation” enterprise approach that reflects its understanding and commitment to a comprehensive approach to addressing the multifaceted challenge of supporting veterans and transitioning service members.
- Through the proposed interagency group on veterans’ services and care, the Administration should consider developing a multi-year, capstone strategic planning document and review process for veterans’ services and care akin to the quadrennial review process for other complex policy areas like national defense, homeland security, and diplomacy.
- As a catalyst for the creation of an enterprise approach to serving veterans, the Office of Management and Budget should develop a Cross Agency Priority goal focused on comprehensive support for veterans. The interagency group on veterans’ services and care should be responsible for overseeing the goal’s implementation.
Ensure existing federal-wide efforts to support veterans are engaged effectively according to agency roles, missions, and areas of comparative advantage—as well as provide sufficient leadership authority to execute their charge.
Key Action Steps
- The Administration should task the proposed interagency group on veterans’ services and care to develop an inventory of existing programs and conduct a comprehensive review of agency roles, missions, responsibilities, and core strengths across the multiple issue-areas affecting veterans (e.g., health, employment, education, human and social services).
- As part of this effort, the proposed interagency group should develop journey maps to model when and where veterans and transitioning service members come into contact with federal services during and after the transition process; isolate gaps and potential areas where veterans may experience challenges navigating services; and identify opportunities where modifying roles, missions, and responsibilities could reduce these changes.
- Based on its review, the proposed interagency group on veterans’ services and care should make recommendations to the Administration and to Congress regarding any changes in roles, missions, and authority it deems necessary, whether through legislation, executive orders, or actions that can be taken within existing authority.
Create regular forums to engage community-based stakeholders, leverage their insight and expertise, and align plans and service delivery strategies to complement and empower community-based efforts.
Key Actions Steps
- The proposed interagency group on veterans’ services and care should provide a mechanism for community-based stakeholders—state and local governments, veteran service organizations, human service organizations, and the business community—to participate in its deliberations and provide input into interagency plans and strategies.
- Similarly, agencies represented in the proposed interagency group on veterans’ services and care should, as appropriate, incorporate non-federal and non-governmental partners into their own strategic planning processes.
- Agencies represented in the proposed interagency group on veterans’ services and care should engage vigorously in community-based outreach, including through attending recurring community stakeholder convenings and empowering their local representatives (e.g., leaders at local VA facilities, the Department of Labor’s American Job Centers, and local Small Business Administration representatives) to form partnerships with other actors at the community level.
- Agencies represented in the proposed interagency group on veterans’ services and care should consider the increased use of business models that promote localized innovation, coordination, and bottom-up engagement in communities such as public-private partnerships and block grants.
Identify, acquire, and deploy information technology tools and data management structures to support enterprise planning.
Key Action Steps
- Consistent with the U.S. Federal Data Strategy and recommendations two and three above, The Administration should task the proposed interagency group on veterans’ services and care to: (1) develop an inventory of relevant interagency and public-private data sharing initiatives; and (2) create a master data governance framework to coordinate disparate data sharing initiatives, establish policies and procedures for data stewardship and access, and prioritize opportunities for improved interagency data sharing and evidence-based planning in veterans’ services and care.
- The proposed interagency group on veterans’ services and care should take full advantage of partnerships with private industry and academia to assess the feasibility and drive implementation of digital innovation and data transformation initiatives that promote greater flexibility and interoperability across federal agencies and with the broader public (state and local), private, and nonprofit sectors working to serve the veteran community.