Texas A&M Research Could Help Improve Veteran Support
Research from Texas A&M University’s Public Policy Research Institute (PPRI) suggests that healthcare support is the greatest service needed for the Texas veterans, no matter the region.
The findings of the needs assessment conducted by PPRI and the Texans Veterans Commission (TVC) has the potential to lay the foundation for better veteran support in the state. Led by PPRI research scientist Nandita Chaudhuri, the assessment was funded by a grant from TVC. The commission awards Funds for Veteran Assistance (FVA) grants to veteran-serving organizations in eight different regions of the state. The Texas A&M team performed surveys of veterans and veteran-serving organizations, asset mapping and focus groups in these regions.
Chaudhuri said the finding that healthcare support is a priority need came as a surprise to TVC.
“They don’t have a grant in this area, but they do have a department that helps Texas veterans navigate the Veterans Administration’s healthcare setting,” she said. “A key recommendation from the study is that TVC might want to consider adding a new grant area that focuses on healthcare support for Texas veterans and carefully define the boundaries for this grant area with systematic feedback and open communication with key stakeholders.”
Chaudhuri’s research team included PPRI staff with expertise in survey research and focus group techniques: Kirby Goidel, Marina Brandman, Lisa Halperin, Anthony Jackson, Ashleigh Williams and Zack Brattin. Through a series of 17 focus groups, the team learned that to Texas veterans, “healthcare support” means help accessing and navigating their VA healthcare options, support with care coordination and healthcare access.
The focus groups also revealed that most Texas veterans did not know that TVC offers assistance to navigate the VA healthcare system.
“Most of the focus group participants told us that they get their healthcare information from other veterans, friends and family members, rather than the TVC or even the VA,” Chauduri said. “So really they only find out about services that are available if someone they know has also needed them. When they separate from the military and are transitioning to civilian life, they don’t have much help or anyone telling them what services are available to them. This leads to a lot of frustration that we heard from the Texas veterans.”
Chaudhuri’s final report is available to the public, as mandated by the state legislature. This means her team’s research can be used by veteran serving entities everywhere to inform improvements to their services. Based on the study findings presented to TVC commissioners and legislative committees, TVC argued for more healthcare advocates to improve access to healthcare for veterans across the state.
“Another recommendation is for TVC to pay attention to some of the marketing and outreach strategies the veterans suggested,” Chaudhuri said. “They recommended using a combination of various marketing outlets and strategies, including not only social media but also sending mass emails, conducting veterans’ town hall meetings, using faith-based organizations, installing billboards in largely populated areas, sending mailers in utility bills, and interviewing TVC staff to discuss service availability on local radio shows.”
While largely populated areas could benefit from mass media approaches, Chaudhuri’s research team also heard from veterans living in rural areas that print media would be a more effective marketing tool in rural Texas. Both in rural and urban areas, an inadequate understanding of benefits and not knowing where to obtain help were among the top barriers to obtaining services. This is where targeted marketing and outreach could be valuable.
“Especially in the rural areas, veterans get their news from the local newspapers. It’s very important for them because it runs local stories,” Chaudhuri said. “TVC has to pay attention to the fact that they can’t use social media to reach veterans in rural areas who don’t have easy access to it.”
Other findings from Chaudhuri’s research suggest that the emotional and psychological needs of the veteran population are more profound than in the general public.
“Many of them said again and again that unless you address the mental health needs, all these other benefits you provide in different regions are of no use at all,” she said.
Chaudhuri’s research team also learned that the needs of women veterans require special attention. Both male and female veterans told the research team that women face a unique set of challenges. Future research should focus on the unique needs of women veterans, Chaudhuri said.
TVC is now using the PPRI team’s findings to inform their grants-based resource allocation and policies, thus improving the services offered to the Texas veterans in all eight FVA regions.
“I feel blessed that I can use my social science background in comparative public policy and complex social program evaluations to help inform allocation of resources and policies,” Chaudhuri said. “Projects like this allow me to use my professional training to improve the state’s services for the people who serve our country.”