November 4, 2014
Dan Goldenberg | The Hill
Our service members have used smart weapons for more than two decades to help them succeed in war; they deserve smart services to help them excel in civilian life.
It’s trite but true that we put far more energy and thought into what our service members do in war, than after conflict. Assistance is often provided indiscriminately, reactively, and without an understanding of its impact, much like how “dumb bombs” (weapons without precision guidance systems) were delivered in the early days of World War II. And while we devote more taxpayer and philanthropic resources than ever to veterans services, they are still delivered as if they were dumb bombs. As a result, we are wasting vast amounts of money and failing to meet our obligation to those who served.
To effectively employ a precision guided “smart weapon,” you have to first understand its intended target in depth. It’s no good to hit a target with precisely the wrong expensive weapon. Similarly, we have to understand veterans’ needs in great detail before we deploy services to address them. In a world of veterans services where a “mobile technology strategy” consists of sending dozens of vans indiscriminately into communities seeking out Veterans in need, there is a lot of work to be done to achieve a smarter approach centered on precise targeting of services.
The USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families’ recent survey of veterans needs in Los Angeles County is a great example of how to do this right. It’s the first effort in American history to provide a “detailed study of the target”— specifying veterans’ needs, almost down to the zip code level. If heeded, this insight can enable the delivery of pinpoint services in Los Angeles County, one of the largest concentrations of veterans in the nation. It should serve as a model for the rest of the country.
Getting the correct services to veterans in need, however, is insufficient. Efforts to help must be delivered effectively and efficiently. Even in the age of precision guided munitions, assessments are always made after a target is struck to understand effectiveness and use that data to refine future strikes. Today, there are few mechanisms in place to understand if the services we’re providing for veterans are working and if the money allocated to them is well spent. For example, more than $40 billion has been allocated to the post-9/11 GI Bill, but the Veterans Administration had no idea what the graduation rates are of those using the benefit. Fortunately, a non-profit group, Student Veterans of America, stepped up and funded a project privately to measure the impact of this program.
Indisputably, there is an ocean of goodwill in America, with some 43,000 non-profits trying to help veterans. And while most of these organizations are well-intentioned, very few deliver efficient, scalable impact. This situation spreads resources across too many organizations, underfunding services that are actually working and prolonging the existence of groups that aren’t effective—it’s a confusing landscape for funders and Veterans alike. This is also the reasons why we at the Call of Duty Endowment, in partnership with Deloitte, created the Seal of Distinction: an ongoing initiative to systematically find, fund and grow the most effective and efficient non-profits that help Veterans find good jobs. This model of thorough and objective vetting has application across all services delivered to veterans, and we urge others to embrace and replicate it.
We’ve lived too long under a “fire, ready, aim” approach to delivering much needed services to our veterans. We rush help to the most egregious and obvious areas of need, like chronic homelessness, rather than intervening at the early stages of transition, finding the “hidden targets” that if addressed reduce bigger downstream problems.
Progress is being made in in delivering high quality services to veterans, but it it’s slow and inconsistent. To correct this problem, we need to conduct thorough veterans needs assessment’s, like CIR’s Los Angeles effort, in every major city. We also must inject market forces into services by only funding organizations that can prove both their impact and efficiency. After thirteen straight Veterans Days of delivering smart weapons in combat, it’s time to deliver smart services for our veterans at home.