10/31/2013 - Strengthening and Transforming Local Partnerships in New York State to Best Serve America’s Veterans and Their Families

Recently, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released its long-awaited report on the effectiveness of its Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program. 

For those unfamiliar with the program, SSVF is a first-of-its-kind initiative for the VA in that it is a competitive grant program currently awarded to 319 community-based agencies employing the principles of Housing Firstto assist Veterans and their families who are at imminent risk for losing their housing to maintain safe permanent housing. Importantly, it is also a program designed to meet the needs of Veterans’ families who have become homeless by rapidly re-engaging with permanent housing and other support structures to achieve quick housing outcomes and community integration.

Today, unlike any other time in our nation’s history, VA is blazing new trails in their service to Veteran families because of SSVF grants. From my former perspective running Rochester, New York’s Veterans Outreach Center as one of the VA’s original 85 SSVF grantees, and now as Senior Director for Community Engagement and Innovation here at Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families (where I oversee a Direct Technical Assistance initiative for New York’s 22 SSVF grants and a $26 million investment made by the VA in community-based capacity designed to serve nearly 7,000 Veteran families annually), there is no more transformative and impactful vehicle serving Veterans’ families than SSVF.

With the core services provided through the SSVF program, communities are organizing Federal and local resources to make it easier for Veterans and their families to access the supports that best meet their needs. Communities in New York where SSVF resources have been established are seeing community-based case management, legal resources, financial coaching and counseling services, employment and education counseling and even peer-to-peer resources, aligned and funded through SSVF grants themselves, in integrated and potentially best-practice fashion, to put their community capacity to work serving Veterans’ families.

SSVF’s collaborative nature lends itself nicely to improved coordination and communication within supporting Continuums of Care (CoC) by empowering a shared and collective responsibility to serve Veterans’ families. SSVF offers CoCs meaningful resources to address a Veteran’s family’s immediate housing needs and supportive services to respond to their needs beyond securing housing.

While SSVF really drives a community’s Housing First approach for Veteran families, we’re also seeing CoCs in New York use the program to create coordination tools to collaborate across agencies. In Long Island, the CoC established a Veterans’ Advisory Board to educate its members on issues that are most pressing for Veterans’ families, thus building out their community of practice itself. In Western New York, SSVF grantees actively lead ongoing discussions on Housing First to help their CoCs better coordinate their limited resources. Elsewhere, Memorandums of Understanding are springing up in CoCs around referrals Veterans’ families to ensure that the right interventions are occurring regardless of where the family first entered the system.

Across New York, VA SSVF grantees are leading efforts within their CoCs to better share data and information to track outcomes associated with Veterans’ families. In major metropolitan centers where multiple SSVF grantees are operating alongside one another, coordinating SSVF capacity has taken on greater importance and is proving invaluable to the community’s ability to better understand rates of Veteran homelessness, its underlying issues, and the resources being applied to help solve Veterans’ housing needs.

From my foxhole, it’s refreshing to see the transformative impact SSVF resources are having on their communities. SSVF is not only working to improve the lives of our Veteran families, it’s also having a large impact on CoCs and their communities, the newest platforms by which to serve those who serve our country.  

Colonel (Retired) Jim McDonough is the Senior Director for Community Engagement and Innovation at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF). He is the past Director of the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs and a Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He resides in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. with his family.

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