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A National Veteran Policy Field of Study to Guide Policy Development, Program Investments and Improve Outcomes

This article was originally published in the Summer 2017 edition of PATimes, A Look at Military Service.

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

By Raun Lazier
December 12, 2017

“When the peace treaty is signed, the war isn’t over for the veterans, or the family.”

–Karl Marlantes

The nation’s veteran and family ecosystem is dynamic, complex and resource rich. It encompasses more than 21 million U.S. veterans, 41,000 registered nonprofit organizations serving the military and veterans and billions of dollars invested annually in a wide variety of programs and services for the military, veterans and their families. Moreover, the policy landscape includes 1,300-plus federal and state policies, executive orders and agency directives that impact—directly or indirectly—veterans and their families.

Fields of study, such as those in the national security and health care arenas, are taught and researched at the university level; analyzed by organizations; utilized and funded by public, private and nonprofit stakeholders; and used to inform national to community-level policy and program decisionmaking and investment. However, there is no comparable academic and research field of study for issues affecting veterans and their families. Nor is there a unifying framework to tie stakeholders’ activities together. There is significant research and policy analysis on discrete areas related to veterans and families (mostly in the health care area), but they have not been coordinated or developed into a coherent field of study.

Such a field of study can produce evidence-based decisionmaking that has the potential to produce more effective policy and investment decisions, improve service delivery and, as a result, ensure better outcomes for veterans, their families and the nation. According to an Urban Institute report, when evidence is not used as a basis for decisionmaking (or the evidence used does not accurately reflect the needs of the population), proposals for change are likely to produce ineffective outcomes and may negatively impact those they seek to benefit.

In addition, a field of study for an ecosystem of this magnitude would:

  • Drive evidence-based and outcome focused actions around myriad policy issues affecting the lives of veterans and their families.
  • Create a comprehensive view of these issues.
  • Provide a forum for researchers, policymakersand other stakeholders to exchange ideas.
  • Inform private sector, philanthropic, community and government investments.

During my domestic and international experiences and collaboration, I have discovered real interest in developing and sustaining a Veteran Policy Field of Study within the academic, research, business, foundation, NGO and government communities. More important, there exists real momentum to develop this field of study. For example:

  • Several universities have well-established military and veteran institutes dedicated to addressing issues affecting the lives of service members, veterans and their families. They include the University of Southern California, Syracuse University, Purdue University, University of Maryland, University of Utah and Anglia Ruskin University in England.
  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has created a Veteran Policy Research Agenda to “help guide decisions about current and future investments in research surrounding veteran issues…” It also has developed a definition of “veteran policy research analysis.” Taken together, these actions have helped to remove some of the barriers associated with coordinating research and analysis activities.
  • Public, private and nonprofit organizations across the United States invest in and conduct research and programs, and deliver services to our nation’s veterans and their families.
  • International organizations have recognized the importance of evidence-based research and analysis on military and veteran issues. For example, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) created a technical research team to examine military-to-civilian transition in NATO member states. In a separate initiative, a Veterans Research Hub is being developed to “provide an accessible, contemporary and authoritative repository of UK and international research-related resources and literature on military veterans and their families…”
  • Over the past few years, there have been public calls for action for related initiatives, including a “National Veterans Covenant” and National Veterans Strategy from prominent stakeholders in the military and veteran community.

In today’s global society, governments are working to become more efficient, effective and accountable. As they do, military- and veteran-serving organizations are seeking better outcomes for veterans and their families and greater returns on their investments. A Veteran Policy Field of Study can help achieve the optimal development and implementation of solutions to address the daunting issues that our society faces.

Author: Raun Lazier has nearly 20 years of experience in federal and local government and the nonprofit sector. A member of the NATO panel examining military-to-civilian transition in member states, Lazier developed and implemented the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ first-ever Veterans Policy Research Agenda. He led interagency collaboration and domestic and international engagements to help guide decisions about current and future investments in research surrounding veteran issues. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of his organization. He can be reached at [email protected].

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