An unprecedented study pinpointing the needs of military veterans in Los Angeles County is being replicated elsewhere, and it could serve as a road map for donors and nonprofits nationally, according to veterans service providers.
The University of Southern California research is believed to be the first comprehensive study to drill down into the veterans population at the local level. Nonprofit professionals say there is a dearth of such data and that the USC study will help them better zero in on needs, pursue funding from foundations and government agencies, and allocate resources.
"I think it should be a national model," said Dan Goldenberg, executive director of the Call of Duty Endowment, which focuses on veterans issues.
Some veterans’ advocates say numbers maintained by federal agencies are unreliable, while other statistics don’t reflect local realities.
USC’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families published the study, titled "The State of the American Veteran: The Los Angeles County Veterans Study," in June. At its core is a survey of 1,356 veterans — half of whom served before 9/11 — covering topics including employment status, housing, and mental health.
The study has already been replicated in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, with the results scheduled to be released in February. Preliminary talks with donors are being done to execute a third study in Chicago. Anthony Hassan, director of USC research center and the catalyst behind the work, said he would like to see the study conducted in 10 cities. He would also like to see it done at the state level, in a state such as Nevada. Together, a portfolio of research could be used by donors, nonprofits, and government agencies across the country to improve decision making, he said.
Col. Jim Isenhower, special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and director of the Chairman’s Office of Reintegration, said that national statistics are helpful to identify and understand broad trends.
"The L.A.-specific results of this survey provide a more detailed, locally-nuanced understanding of what L.A. County’s veterans and military families are experiencing, which can be very different from the experiences in other communities across our country," said Col. Isenhower, who early this month moderated an event in Washington where the study was highlighted.
In Los Angeles, more than two-thirds of veterans reported difficulties adjusting to civilian life. Nearly eight in 10 had left the military without a job lined up, believing they would be able to quickly find work. Nearly a quarter of veterans in Los Angeles County with jobs reported earning wages at or below the poverty level. Thirty-eight percent of veterans in the region are Hispanic and 8 percent are Asian.
"You’re not going to find that in national data," Mr. Hassan said.
The research was inspired, in part, by donors’ interest in obtaining data on veterans that could help guide decisions on how to allocate money and energy. In 2013, Mr. Hassan received separate telephone calls from Christine Essel, chief executive of the Southern California Grantmakers; Mary Odell, president of the UniHealth Foundation; and Cynthia Strauss, director of research at Fidelity Charitable, all seeking research and advice.
He didn’t have a great source to direct them to, he told them, but was looking for support to conduct work that would produce the data they were seeking.
Ultimately, UniHealth Foundation, Newman’s Own Foundation, Prudential, and Deloitte sponsored the research.
Nonprofit professionals, including members of the Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative, are already working to put the results of the Los Angeles study to use. Dr. Jonathan Sherin, chief medical officer and executive vice president for military communities at Volunteers of America, described Los Angeles County as his organization’s most challenging market.
"We learned from the survey that access to services and opportunities is the single biggest deficit in L.A.," he said. "Now, by cultivating partnerships, setting up systems and implementing programs, a response to the access challenge is being orchestrated" at the Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative.
There are many outlets for donors and nonprofits to spend their money and energy in ways that will make them feel good, says Mr. Hassan. But veterans need jobs, mental-health treatment, and community-coordinated holistic care, he argues, and as resources shrink, donors and services providers need to invest where veterans can benefit the most.
"Philanthropists need to know this is a long haul," Mr. Hassan said. "We are going to have some ups and downs. Not every intervention that is funded is going to be scalable. But at least we are moving with data."