Findings Friday | Serving Our Vets, Part 1: The Sixth Month

May 31, 2013
| by Editor |

GCN’s Metro Atlanta Veterans’ Services Research Project is the first comprehensive study designed to gain a more holistic understanding of how best to support area veterans.

Both veterans and veteran-service organizations were surveyed in the ten-county metro Atlanta area, home to approximately 216,000 vets. In this blog series, we'll explore issues highlighted by the report and potential solutions. These include the skyrocketing of vet-related service usage over time; nonprofits’ capacity to provide veteran-specific assistance; and the mismatch of nonprofits’ focus and veteran needs.

A Temporal Disparity

In veterans' first six months of separation from the military, approximately 40% of them access social services, mental and physical health, career counseling, housing assistance, etc.  But in the second six months, that number rises to 54%, and the circumstances requiring the assistance are much more urgent.

By further breaking down the data, we can find trends in assistance requests that lead to the rising demand over time. Immediately after military service, the most commonly used services were educational services (13.5%), home loan assistance (9.6%), physical health assistance (9.6%), and employment services (11.5%). But six months after military service, the most commonly used services were mental health services (17.3%), physical health assistance(13.5%), homelessness assistance programs (13.5%), employment services (13.5%), and educational services (13.5%). The most dramatic statistic: a 425% increase in mental health service usage. This trend can be imagined as somewhat expected: favoring finding a home, taking care of physical health needs, and enrolling in school in lieu of evaluating one’s mental health or getting career and financial counseling in the face of looming economic strains.

A Critical Point  

So how can the nonprofit sector begin to address veteran needs and social reintegration as they transition back into civilian society?

The large increase in mental health service usage (up 425% from the first six months), homelessness assistance (up 175%), and substance abuse addiction services (up 200%) may indicate a critical point where nonprofits can effectively intervene—immediately after they complete their service. As two veteran respondents explained:

“Veterans need a sense of hope and something to love within 6 months”

“The time right after war is so critical for reintegration.”

Without a sufficient off-ramping program provided by the armed services, nonprofits can collaborate with public sector branches to develop career-minded internship or mentor programs to link vets to each other and potential employment opportunities.

Timing is but one significant factor in preventing the building up of stressors before they become unmanageable. Developing targeted outreach, improving access to programs, and building organizational capacity for veterans are all necessary components to better serve our veteran community. We'll explore those areas in the next installment of our Serving Our Vets series.

Tommy Pearce is Communications Coordinator at the Georgia Center for Nonprofits.

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