| Dec 14, 2022

Data Bridges Veterans and Vital Services

Unfortunately, many service members are unaware of their vast benefits. Data and better outreach are the missing links between the bravest among us and the aid they deserve.

With the plethora of services available to our nation’s veterans, you’d be right to think there’s a line out the door to receive them. With regards to the health benefits offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), that’s certainly the case, but healthcare isn’t the only resource available. Sadly, thousands of veterans across the country miss out on these services each year. 

The problem is likely one of knowledge. Veterans often don’t know these services exist, and the states providing those benefits may lack clarity on the total size of their veteran populations or an understanding of who those veterans are — or both. There’s a chasm between vets and these services. Luckily, a bridge can help close this gap, and that bridge is data. 

The Need for Outreach to Those Most in Need

U.S. taxpayers will spend over $338 billion this year on VA funding. A large chunk of this money goes toward the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). Still, an even more significant piece goes to benefits programs like education, employment assistance, homeless outreach, and assistance with food and living expenses.

Despite the array of aid available, many service members fail to utilize it. A friend whose father is a Vietnam War vet knows this story too well. After learning his dad never engaged with the VA, my friend pressed his father and found no particular reason he hadn’t; he was just largely unaware of the services available. Of course, this could be because he never felt he needed those benefits. But this isn’t the case for everyone. Many veterans live below the federal poverty line, making it more difficult to access specific resources — if they’re aware of them at all. 

These challenges don’t solely exist within veteran populations. Government agency administrators across many benefit programs often struggle to get those eligible to take advantage of benefits. Unfortunately, this tends to be especially true for underrepresented groups, including low-income, older and credit-underserved Americans. One analysis showed communities like those in highly credit-underserved areas could have 20%-40% lower benefit program participation rates. 

Underserved veteran populations face many barriers to access, including limited internet resources, lack of reliable transportation to services, rigid work hours, or they may live in rural areas that don’t have nearby services.

Further, understanding who hasn’t participated in service and how to engage those individuals effectively can be challenging for government agencies without the means to tap into reliable data. 

Veterans also face the unique challenges of readjusting to society — which can affect their ability to seek help. Compared to the general population, veterans between 18 and 30 are twice as likely to experience homelessness. This grim reality can make it difficult for state agencies to locate (or conduct outreach about) available services. 

Social distress and isolation may also pose distinct hurdles for vets wanting to utilize or needing benefits and services. The overwhelming majority of resources exist for these underserved demographics, but their circumstances inhibit their ability to discover and access them. 

More significant, precise outreach is the cure for whatever is at the root of the problem. Digital proficiency is just one of the methods of targeting that root. 

A Lack of Awareness

Impoverished homeless veterans are critically underserved, but the problem impacts other vets transitioning into society. Service members may not access all available benefits because there’s a sense of shame around asking for help. 

Veterans might assume any available benefits won’t directly impact them or may be better left to serve others; some may even fear accessing available services might be re-traumatizing. Still, many veterans are potentially unaware of how many services there are. A heavy equipment operator in the military is usually eligible for a commercial driver’s license due to their experience. Programs like this need to be communicated to our veterans consistently.

It’s imperative to position information in front of veterans in a practical, accessible way. This could look different for each state but requires close cooperation with the VA. A crucial part of this strategy must include data. 

Some states, for instance, are unaware of their veteran population sizes. These states aren’t entirely to blame; it’s often difficult to know a veteran’s status unless they apply for benefits. However, the unfortunate fact remains any effective outreach program would require targeted communications with veterans — which necessitates knowing who and where they are. Data is the engine driving a solid outreach strategy.

Data Is the Remedy

Analytics and technology can improve how government agencies pinpoint new and existing veterans wherever they may be. For example, even though someone who moves might forget to tell their cell phone company or, in the case of veterans, the VA, publicly available data from various sources can help federal and state agencies locate veterans after they move. 

Whether a veteran is moving, without a permanent address, or has never enrolled in a benefits program, robust identity data can help state agencies better identify, locate, and contact them. By precisely identifying veterans through insights like current residence, state agencies can see up to a 40% improvement in the number of veterans they’re able to identify, according to internal TransUnion data. By enriching these insights with contact information like email and phone numbers, state agencies can expand their reach to veterans and amplify awareness of the services and benefits available.

States can take several actionable steps to track their veteran pool accurately. Chief among these steps is taking advantage of available data sources to locate, contact, and inform their veteran communities of the benefits available to them. For example, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) already uses a digital solution enabling people to update their addresses. Gaining access to this system would automate the process of generating updated addresses for veterans as they move. Interagency communication is critical to better serving our vets.

It’s also incumbent upon the U.S. at the national level to open conversations about the prominent struggles of our service men and women and the aid they’ve earned. There’s a stigma around receiving help, particularly with taboo subjects like suicide rates and mental illness. 

Suicides may have dropped among veterans, but the rate is still higher than in the general population. We must have a better dialogue at the national level to remove that stigma and encourage veterans to get the help they need. Talking openly about taboo subjects also brings vital information to the veteran population. 


To Reach Them, We Must Know Them

We can’t reach our service members without knowing who they are and where they live. The responsibility lies with the state, local agencies, and the VA. Many tools are available to help generate accurate pictures of their veteran populations. Once we know where our vets live, we need to initiate accurate, timely, and regular contact with them to increase awareness and trust in the agencies that serve them. Our veterans served honorably. Now, it’s our responsibility to give back to them. 

Jeffrey Huth
Jeffrey Huth
Executive Author

Vice President of Strategy, Public Sector, Transunion

Jeff is the VP of Strategy for TransUnion’s Public Sector business unit. view profile


Related Posts