Tags: Give An Hour, Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, Mullen, public-private partnerships, USA Together
At the recent 2009 Defense Forum sponsored by MOAA and USNI, Adm. Mike Mullen addressed an audience of governmental, for-profit and non-profit organizations caring for or providing some measure of support for injured servicemembers and their families. Also in the audience were medical professionals, academics and researchers that are studying how best to care for and support our injured troops. But, suffice it to say that, despite the dedication of everyone in the room, no one has figured out the right formula and glaring gaps still exist. Despite the fact that military medicine can provide world class battlefield care, hospital care and rehab care, it is still clear that outpatient care – especially the bureaucracy behind it – often fails our servicemembers, veterans and their families at their greatest time of need.
“How do we create a system across America that sustains their needs throughout their lives?” Admiral Mullen asked the audience somewhat rhetorically. He didn’t have an answer and he expressed his frustration at the slow pace inside the government to fix the acute problems and innovate the entire system so that a combination of DoD and the VA can do just that – take care of the needs of these servicemembers from the time they raise their hand to enlist until the death of their last dependent.
DoD and the VA cannot do it alone. Despite the fact that less than 1% of the U.S. population serves in the military today, this microcosm of our society needs the entire U.S. populace more than ever. The private sector – corporations, non-profit organizations and local and state government – needs to step up and raise their hand to augment the care and services currently provided by DoD and the VA to our wounded servicemembers, those who suffer from “unseen injuries” from their service in OEF and OIF. There are many organizations that have cropped up since 9-11 to “support the troops,” but most are very small, managed by volunteers and focused on tangible donations, i.e., care packages, quilts, homes, meals, transportation, etc. More highly efficient, well funded and professionally led organizations in the civilian sector are needed that can provide rapidly accessible and convenient services to the injured and their families. There are a few who are in the vanguard of this movement.
Admiral Mullen recognized the efforts of USA Together, a non-profit that matches servicemembers with vetted organizations that can provide services – financial or in-kind. It quickly and simply connects military people who have an identified need with individuals or organizations who have services or goods to donate. It puts the needy and the service provider together with no third-party intervention or referrals.
Another good one is Give An Hour, a non profit founded in 2005 that has created a national network of mental health professionals who are providing free services to U.S. troops, veterans and their families – in the communities in which they live and work.
Another one is the state of Virginia, which is putting together a structure that includes a community service board with representation from all civilian organizations that can augment the VA. This is being initially funded with $1.7 million out of the state budget.
Another one is in the state of Illinois, where then-Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Tammy Duckworth fostered the establishment of 768 community-based outpatient clinics to allow access to care in remote areas of the state. She also awarded non-profits that were working directly with Illinois veterans with state grants of up to $100,000.
The military needs more of these. Admiral Mullen made it clear that he wants to see more collaboration between DoD, the VA and community-based organizations. This sounds like a call for public-private partnerships, a business model that has proven effective for DoD. They already partner with the private sector to build military housing and the Marine Corps museum in Quantico was built by a robust public-private partnership. But many DoD lawyers want all “non-federal entities” to be treated exactly the same to avoid an appearance of endorsement. However, this prohibits the kind of partnerships that create smart and measurable results. It was refreshing to hear the leader at the top of food chain recommending that DoD should find “the gold standard and join them – not compete – and spread the best practices.”