In a collaborative effort to support the diverse needs of veterans and their families, the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families (CIR) at the USC School of Social Work has received funding from the Orange County Community Foundation and UniHealth Foundation to launch of a one-of-a-kind survey to assess the needs of veterans in Orange County, Calif.
CIR’s goal is to poll at least 1,000 veterans and 500 of their spouses to help identify opportunities for new or expanded program development, public policy and community collaboration. This Orange County survey is a continuation of the work CIR started last fall with a similar survey in Los Angeles County in conjunction with the Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative, a group of more than 250 service providers and organizations.
The new gifts from the Orange County Community Foundation (OCCF) and UniHealth will bolster CIR’s work in building effective community networks and promising preventive strategies for returning veterans and their families, many of whom face challenges during the transition from a military life to a civilian one.
For OCCF, directing more than $94,000 toward the creation and implementation of the survey, which plans to explore multiple areas, including housing, employment and mental health, fell in line with the foundation’s goal of better understanding the needs of local veterans.
“As more and more servicemen and women will be leaving the military and reintegrating into civilian life, it is important to us that Orange County is a welcoming and supportive environment for them to come home to,” said Shelley Hoss, OCCF president, who noted that Orange County has the third largest population of veterans in California. “This assessment will help us to identify what gaps there are and how we can provide effective support where it is needed most.”
Hoss said that OCCF, which supports various charitable interests including its own Orange County Veterans Services Initiative to leverage resources to meet the needs of returning service members, committed the initial funding for the Orange County survey. UniHealth then came on board with additional funding of $50,000 to ensure the desired scope of the study would be met.
“We want to add value as grant maker by connecting the dots in the community so everybody doesn’t have to start from scratch,” said Mary Odell, president of UniHealth Foundation, which supports significant improvements in health care services. “It’s an important role for philanthropy and worked out very well [in this case]. We wanted to expand an existing, validated instrument [like the Los Angeles Veterans Survey from CIR].”
UniHealth also gave $150,000 to support CIR’s continued efforts in leading the Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative through its next phase of growth and development, including analyzing the major findings from the Los Angeles County veterans survey and addressing gaps in programs and services currently available to veterans and military families.
Both Odell and Hoss expressed enthusiasm for working with CIR and its director, Anthony Hassan, who is also a clinical associate professor at the School of Social Work and is himself a military veteran.
“Dr. Hassan has clinical and on-the-ground, real experience, and he is a teacher and veteran who ran a similar program at the Air Force Academy,” Odell said. “When you talk to him, you see the real concern he has for his students and the population he is training them to serve.”
Hoss said that after learning about the Los Angeles Veterans Survey, she realized that CIR's needs assessment for Los Angeles County would be a perfect fit for Orange County’s needs, too.
“It was clear that such an examination was exactly what Orange County needed,” she said. “We determined that it would be ideal to partner with USC, given its expertise in the veterans arena.”
Hassan reinforced CIR’s commitment to strengthening the transition of veterans and military families into their communities and said that this new survey will give the center a better picture of how best to do that.
“We find that the best way to understand the unique needs of veterans and their families is by asking them directly,” he said. “Expanding the Los Angeles Veterans Survey in to Orange County will provide much-needed information for service providers, nonprofits and policy makers, and it will help paint a fuller picture within California, which is home to the highest number of veterans nationwide.”