Veteran News in Texas

Combined Arms Submission to Interim Charge #2 and #5

January 5, 2021

Interim Charge #2

Study the mental health treatment options available for all Texas veterans, including efforts to fill gaps left by the federal government. Make recommendations for future legislation streamlining mental health treatment coordination among federal, state, and local agencies.

Transition from military service is complex, and can be a mentally and emotionally taxing process for veterans. One review of recent population survey studies found that 44% to 72% of military veterans experienced high levels of stress during transition out of the military service, citing difficulties securing employment, difficulties adjusting to the nature of civilian employment versus military culture, relationship conflicts within the family system or with friends, broader interpersonal relationships, legal difficulties, and general adaptation to the schedule of civilian life (Morin, 2011, as cited by Mobbs & Bonnana, 2018).

A major shortfall in the availability of mental health treatment for transitioning veterans is that currently available interventions are too narrowly focused. At present, the Veteran’s Administration (VA) mandates prioritization of prolonged exposure (PE) and cognitive processing therapy (CPT) for PTSD, resulting in providers who are highly skilled in these interventions and a large portion of funding going towards PTSD research and optimizing PE and CPT programs within the VA. While access to mental health treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is paramount for members of the military population who have experienced both combat and non-combat related trauma and meet criteria for this diagnosis, empirical studies show that that PTSD typically occurs in a relatively small population of returning veterans (Mobbs & Bonanna, 2018).

What this means for transitioning veterans is that the specific, immediate mental health needs associated with transition stress have been overlooked or marginalized by programs at the federal level. According to the Pew Research Center (2011), the current generation of Post 9/11 veterans struggles more with transition than veterans serving during any other conflict or peace time period in between. Transition stress has been linked to later development of mental and physical health concerns, including suicidal ideations (Interian, Kline, Janal, Glynn, & Losonczy, 2014; Kline et al., 2010, as cited by Mobbs & Bonanna, 2018). Most first-time suicide attempts in the veteran population occur after separation from the military, making the availability of appropriate mental health services and interventions even more crucial during the transition period.

Combined Arms is well prepared to quickly provide veterans with vetted mental health resources through an interactive technology platform, a network of veteran organizations, and a centralized co-working space. For example, mental wellness is the 4th most requested service among Combined Arms’s clients – resolving over 1,183 mental wellness requests in a three year window (Combined Arms Client Data). ​Responsive to these needs, C​ ombined Arms invests heavily in mental health resources, allocating nearly 20% of its resources to mental wellness. This makes mental wellness Combined Arms’s second largest service category ranked by number of resources.

In addition, Combined Arms was selected by the George W. Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative to develop an innovative solution for connecting more veterans to effective care for the invisible wounds such as PTSD, TBI, depression, etc. Specifically, the ​Bush Institute’s Veteran Wellness Alliance​ has united 15 organizations nationally to connect more veterans to high quality care for the invisible wounds by linking high quality clinical care programs and veteran peer networks. T​ he Alliance consists of seven best-in-class Peer Networks, such as The Mission Continues, Team Rubicon, Wounded Warrior Project, and Student Veterans of America who collectively represent over 1.1 million Post 9/11 veterans, and eight high quality clinical partners across the public and private sectors who deliver care at various locations throughout the country. The Veteran Wellness Alliance partnered with Combined Arms to pilot the use of the Alliance’s referral/connection tools and strategies through a pilot program called Check In that is currently operating throughout Texas, Florida, and Colorado. Through Check In, a veteran peer, who sees a buddy struggling, can connect their buddy to care by using the Combined Arms mobile application, sending an email, or making a phone call.

Then an expertly trained advocate will reach out directly to the veteran in need and help him/her get connected to the right care program across all of the Alliance partners. The VWA believed that Combined Arms was an ideal partner, given that Combined Arms has: (1) An extensive directory of vetted resources; (2) Several potential entry points for veterans in need of resources (self-directed, non-clinical assessments online, phone calls, and walk-ins to a brick and mortar facility); and (3) Thorough vetting and accountability process for organizations that participate in the network. Overall, Combined Arms’s interstate partnerships, like with VWA, gives it extra opportunities to increase access to high-quality clinical care beyond its own body of clients.

Additionally, the Texas Veterans Network was established by the Texas Workforce Commission in 2020 in order to collectively achieve Governor Abbott’s vision to make Texas the first interconnected state for veterans and families in the United States. In order to achieve this vision, Combined Arms was selected to launch the Texas Veterans Network to help connect military, veterans, and their families to the federal, state, and local government agencies plus the litany of community-based nonprofit organizations providing services. The objective is to not only ensure the clients have faster, more effective access to mental wellness services but to also reduce confusion in the selection of resources and reduce the redundancy and fragmentation among the veteran-serving agencies by holding them accountable. When paired with the Bush Institute’s Veteran Wellness Alliance, the Texas Veterans Network has the potential to dramatically increase access to mental wellness services in the State of Texas for military, veterans, and their families. Both of these programs can be accessed through the dynamic, ever-evolving Combined Arms system (TexasVeterans.Network).

In conclusion, Combined Arms’ recommendation for the Committee is to help ensure the state agencies that serve veterans and families are not only aware of incredible resources like the Veterans Wellness Alliance and the Texas Veterans Network but also actively incentivizing their employees to refer clients into the Combined Arms system (TexasVeterans.Network).

 

Interim Charge #5

Review the connection between the economic vitality of business and industry and the economic vitality of our military veterans transitioning into the workforce. Specifically, the committee should analyze barriers to military veterans transitioning from active duty to civilian life, the effectiveness of government transition and training benefits, and current and ongoing demand for veteran and military spouse employment from industry in Texas.

Service members encounter a series of needs as they transition out of the military. These include securing employment and housing, addressing physical or mental health issues, and adjusting to civilian culture. The ease through which this transition is made has a profound impact on post-service well-being (Castro, 2013). Two studies on veteran transition and reintegration produced similar findings that highlighted several important social problems: veterans were unprepared for transition, singular organizations or agencies cannot meet the needs of veterans by themselves, the social services landscape is highly fragmented, and data is not consistent or shared across organizations (Tristate Veterans Community Alliance Report, 2014). Combined Arms was designed specifically to combat these social problems at the community-level through its centralized co-working space, collaborative work with member organizations, integrated Salesforce-based technology platform, and community leader program design.

Additionally, Combined Arms has developed and implemented an innovative awareness campaign that attracts military families to Texas, stimulating economic development and ensuring our 100+ member organizations are able to connect them to the 500+ resources available further upstream in the transition process before they leave active duty. This saves time, resources, and ensures a faster and more successful reintegration in most cases.

Government transition programs are important tools for service members as they leave the military. However, training these service members about the many community-based organizations available to them once they transition out of the military, may be overlooked. A holistic approach for veterans and their families is vital to ensuring each individual’s success. Combined Arms has partnered with the Texas Workforce Commission’s Texas Veteran Leadership Program Veteran Resource and Referral Specialists to compliment their career services and provide other resources as needed for the veteran. Additionally, when a transitioning service member, veteran, or family member takes an assessment for services online (TexasVeterans.Network), the client is only referred to the organization they qualify for​. This helps cut through the noise and confusion that many military families feel when they have to independently sift through the numerous resources available to them. Combined Arms, on the other hand, gives the client peace of mind when they are guaranteed a referral to a best-in-class organization.This is because Combined Arms has vetted each member organization through a due diligence process created for them by KPMG. Furthermore, each organization is held accountable to a 96-hour ​maximum​ response time once a client is connected to them, ensuring no veteran is left behind or falls through the cracks.

Across all requests, career services is by far the number one requested service among Combined Arms’s clients. When transitioning to civilian life, servicemembers must translate their military experience into civilian terms in order to showcase their ability to perform essential job functions. Many veterans report this “translation” as a significant barrier to employment (Prudential, 2012). At Combined Arms, we have 20+ organizations solving this problem daily, and connecting the transitioning service member, veteran, or family member to additional resources available to them. Among the community based organizations and state/federal agencies offering career services in our platform, the specific resources include: resume writing, interview preparation, career search and placement, entrepreneurship, career mentoring, professional attire, LinkedIn assistance, internship opportunities, transition workshops, professional networking and development, and second chance job placement. Another vital aspect of career placement includes private sector relationships with corporations willing and able to place veterans and military spouses into meaningful careers. Veteran and military spouse hiring initiatives are impactful for both the employee and employer when corporate partners recognize the unparalleled loyalty, experience, and leadership abilities seen in veteran employees. Combined Arms is diligent in partnering only with employment organizations/agencies that place veterans into careers with a livable wage. During the assessment portion, clients are asked to note if they have a spouse and how many children under the age of 18 are living in their home. This information helps place the client in a career that will keep them well above the poverty line. In 2019 alone, our member organizations placed 1,000+ veterans into careers with a median starting salary of $60,050, and 15 military spouses into careers with a median starting salary of $51,770.

Additionally, the Texas Veterans Network was established by the Texas Workforce Commission in 2020 in order to collectively achieve Governor Abbott’s vision to make Texas the first interconnected state for veterans and families in the United States. In order to achieve this vision, Combined Arms was selected to launch the Texas Veterans Network to help connect military, veterans, and their families to the federal, state, and local government agencies plus the litany of community-based nonprofit organizations providing services. The objective is to not only ensure the clients have faster, more effective access to employment services but to also reduce confusion in the selection of resources and reduce the redundancy and fragmentation among the veteran-serving agencies by holding them accountable. When paired with the Texas Veterans Commission and Texas Workforce Commission, the Texas Veterans Network has the potential to dramatically increase access to employment services in the State of Texas for military, veterans, and their families. All of these employment programs can be accessed through the dynamic, ever-evolving Combined Arms system (TexasVeterans.Network).

In conclusion, it is clear that veteran and military spouse employment is key to the economic development of the State of Texas. Currently, Texas is second only to California in the number of veteran residents with the states expecting to switch places in the coming years. As more veterans decide to call Texas home (or choose to stay here), it is imperative that our resources and services become more easily accessible and available to make the transition to civilian life easier and more efficient. Combined Arms’s recommendation for the Committee is to help ensure the state agencies that serve veterans and families are not only aware of incredible resources like the Texas Veterans Network but also actively incentivizing their employees to refer clients into the Combined Arms system (TexasVeterans.Network).