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Helping veterans

Stand To: Veteran Health and Wellbeing Should be a Top Priority

June 20, 2017 6 minute Read
John Pinter, Bill Rausch and Terri Tanielian
Guest bloggers of the health and wellbeing task force discuss the importance of empowering veterans, their families, and caregivers.

When it comes to supporting our nation's veterans and military families there are various, often competing, opinions about the best way to provide support.  Traditionally, however, it was thought that there were two keys to success:

  •  Employment: The ability to earn a living wage and provide for your family by getting and retaining a job
  • Education: Utilizing the GI Bill and other degree completion programs to lead to greater long-term opportunity

While these factors are critically important to long term success, there have been increased efforts in the last decade to study and support the components of a successful transition and thriving veteran population. From that research, there is growing consensus that health and wellbeing, previously thought to be a second tier need, is a third key component to overall success.   

Defining health and wellbeing and quantifying its importance is beyond the scope of this blog and subject to different opinions.  However, it is generally thought to contain four key dimensions: 

  • Physical Health: The foundation upon which all other dimensions are built.  This component of wellness includes wound and injury treatment, physical rehabilitation, fitness, disease prevention, mobility, obesity, and brain health.
  • Mental and Emotional Health: This can be tied closely to physical health, but presents a unique set of challenges, and thus requires a unique set of solutions.  We are all concerned about the invisible wounds of war and understand that both preventative and acute treatment are extremely important. This component covers addressing everything from isolation and depression to post-traumatic stress and suicidal ideation.
  • Community and Relationships: Family and social support has proven to be a key driver of overall quality of life. This dimension is focused on how veterans connect with their families, communities, and each other during the post-military transition. While some veterans suffer from a lack of available resources, many more struggle with recognition and willingness to engage with helpful resources.  Social support can help to reduce this gap.
  • Purpose and Identity: Many veterans struggle with an acute loss of purpose and identity when taking off the military uniform. We need to find ways to engage veterans with meaningful endeavors and activities. We must also help veterans reconcile their new identity and empower them to leverage the skills and experiences they’ve acquired during their time in the military.   

There are a growing number of organizations, both governmental and nonprofit, working to help address veterans’ health and wellbeing needs, but many of these organizations are not working toward a unified vision and strategy. This causes shortfalls in the ability to monitor and evaluate performance and quality across the various systems of care. Many veterans are also not aware of all the organizations at the ready to help.

Since January, a health and wellbeing veteran task force, convened as part of the Bush Institute-led Stand To, and made up of representatives from the business, non-profit, government and academic sectors, collaborated to discuss and research the gaps in veteran care. In the run-up to Stand To, there has been tremendous collaboration between these more than 30 organizations. While there is still rich diversity of thought, there was consensus on one key theme - health and wellbeing for our veterans and military families is a tier one issue, and is just as important as the traditional focus areas of education and employment.  The task force found that it’s important to think of health and wellbeing not as a separate need, but as something that is inextricably linked to education and employment, and success in those endeavors. Empowering veterans, their families, and their caregivers throughout their lifespan will require continued commitment to prioritizing the overall health and wellbeing of the community.

Recognition of health and wellbeing as a tier one issue by our task force is in no way meant to de-emphasize the importance of vocation and higher education - rather, we see it as a compliment and a way to amplify effects and drive positive outcomes across the spectrum. On Friday, we will share our findings at the Bush Institute Stand To in Washington, D.C. where we will address key priorities, commitments, and next steps to improve transition outcomes across the employment, education and health and wellbeing outcomes.

To learn more about the civilian-military divide and our veteran resources, visit the following links:

Guest authored by:

Team Red, White and Blue CEO John Pinter

Got Your 6 CEO Bill Rausch 

RAND Senior Behavioral Scientist Terri Tanielian