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Collaboration Helps Veterans Transition into Civilian Life

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By The Intersector Project
November 13, 2015

During the past 10 years, 44 percent of American veterans have had difficulty re-entering civilian life, according to the Pew Research Center. And in North Carolina—home to more than 770,000 veterans and 116,000 active duty service members—a new partnership between the North Carolina Division of Veterans Affairs’ NC4VETS initiative and NCServes is helping local veterans navigate this difficult transition by streamlining access to needed services.

Marines march in 2011 NYC Veterans Day ParadeNCServes started as a regional initiative in Charlotte, becoming North Carolina’s first coordinated network of public, private and nonprofit organizations working together to serve veterans, transitioning service members and their families. According to an article in the Charlotte Observer, Charlotte is considered a “magnet city” for veterans looking for higher-paying jobs and a lower cost of living. To address their needs comprehensively, organizations across the business, nonprofit and government sectors are united through an online platform that allows them to securely communicate and share information.

The program is managed by a Coordination Center, a team of employees that reviews each individual’s profile (which includes his or her eligibility for specific programs) and identifies the most appropriate provider to serve him or her. NCServes not only helps veterans by ensuring they are connected with services for which they are eligible—including housing, employment, education and health—but also increases efficiency for service providers by handling the referrals, centralizing records, allowing for easier follow-up and collecting data on the success of services.

The initiative prioritizes a key strategy we refer to in our Toolkit as Commit to Information Sharing. Openly sharing information, including disclosing sensitive facts, gives collaboration partners a more comprehensive understanding of the issue and builds trust among partners and in the collaborative process. If the collaboration does not take measures to encourage partners to share data, it ultimately may limit the capacity of the collaboration. The online platform used by NCServes’ cross-sector partners allows them to not only assess the individual needs of each veteran but also evaluate the overall success of the services they are helping to provide.

Information-sharing is an important tactic across issue areas. NCServes’ implementation of the tool is similar to the successful FosterEd initiative profiled in our Case Library. This initiative developed an educational case management system that served as a mechanism for stakeholders to securely share and track the educational strengths and needs of individual foster children.

By partnering with NC4VETS, and with financial support from the Wal-Mart Foundation, NCServes will be able to expand its model across the state. “NC4VETS has tremendous reach and by partnering regionally with NCServes’ community-based networks, we have a winning formula to attract veterans and help them make North Carolina their new home,” explained North Carolina Veterans Affairs Director, Ilario Pantano, in a recent announcement of the partnership. The program will initially expand to the Research Triangle area, with plans for implementation in all 100 North Carolina counties during the next three years. According to Jim McDonough, who oversees the NCServes program, “The public-private partnership with NC4VETS will ensure resources are aligned at the state and local levels.”

Intersector collaboration has proven to be an effective model for streamlining service delivery to veterans. The Augusta Warrior Project (AWP), which we profile in our Case Library, is one such collaboration in the Central Savannah River Area, home to more than 66,000 veterans. AWP recognized a lack of awareness among veterans of the resources available to them to help them transition into civilian life, leaving them unable to access crucial services. Like NCServes, AWP takes a proactive approach to identifying veterans’ needs, coordinating local resources and connecting veterans through developing partnerships with other nonprofits, local businesses and governmental agencies.

In the case of the Augusta Warrior Project, each sector stood to benefit from a collaborative effort addressing veteran services and veterans were helped with education, employment and health services. The nonprofit sector followed through on its social mission, providing a smooth transition for soldiers as they moved into civilian life. The private sector gained access to a labor source with a wide range of skills to offer, while government agencies had a point of access through which to reach veterans. In the academic realm, the University of South Carolina at Aiken was interested in increasing their veteran enrollment numbers, which the Center helped accomplish. In addition, local business owners wanted to support an organization that would combine veteran support with educational opportunities. AWP provided a crucial link between these seemingly disparate interests.

Author: The Intersector Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing cross-sector collaboration as a way to address society’s pressing issues. We work to provide practitioners in every sector with the tools they need to implement collaborative solutions to complex problems.

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