December 03, 2020

Massachusetts Veteran Needs Assessment: During the Pandemic and Beyond

Executive Summary

This needs assessment examines issues Massachusetts veterans of all eras face and offers a snapshot-in-time portrait of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on veterans in Massachusetts. It analyzes interventions that could benefit veterans, ranging from those in more acute need to those who are stable but would benefit from targeted services that would enhance their long-term outcomes. Quantitative analysis is used to predict population trends in Massachusetts that will shape the needs of the veteran community for years to come. In particular, this report covers barriers, challenges, or inequities veterans face in life domains including health, housing, financial stability, and social support.

Among this report’s most significant findings are that:

  • COVID-19 has impacted the veteran community in unprecedented ways, shining a spotlight on food insecurity, mental health, and childcare at a very challenging time.
  • Social support for veterans is not limited to veteran-specific organizations and missions; many are deeply connected to non-veteran communities.
  • Veterans and their families live in the community with the general population and their needs overlap.
  • The health care system in Massachusetts is regarded very positively by local veterans and stakeholders alike. The VA as well as private health care systems are viewed as meeting the needs of the community very well.
  • Housing affordability reaches across demographic lines and impacts the veteran community just as much as the general population, if not more so. Veterans are at a disadvantage for finding housing since they often lack the social networks and relationships necessary for wading through the bureaucracy.
  • The Massachusetts veteran population is shrinking at the same time that the general population is rapidly increasing. For the veteran community to continue to receive needed benefits and resources while making up a smaller percentage of the Commonwealth, innovations in outreach and awareness are needed.


When support for veterans is considered on both a policy and community level, two groupings quickly emerge. One group of veterans deeply struggle and live in acute need across life domains. For example, the issue of veterans’ housing quickly brings up images of homelessness. Additionally, news stories surrounding veterans being taken advantage of by for-profit educational institutions abound. While veterans in crisis need resources and support to improve their lives and this work is extremely important, this segment of the veteran population is relatively small: Less than one percent of all veterans in the United States have experienced homelessness or are at risk of doing so. On the other hand, high-achieving veterans are identified as success stories and are offered further leadership and professional opportunities such as the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Many similar programs exist to propel promising veterans to greater heights in a variety of professional industries. While estimating the proportion of veterans in this high-achievement category is difficult due to a lack of metrics and studies, by definition and design leadership programs and similar resources are selective. In between these two extremes lies the vast majority of veterans in the United States: those who are not necessarily in dire straits economically but could benefit from support in order to improve their lives. As the Massachusetts veteran population is largely reflective of this population dichotomy, this needs assessment attempts to highlight this overlooked veteran subpopulation and identify how best to serve veterans in this category.

COVID-19 has impacted the veteran community in unprecedented ways, shining a spotlight on food insecurity, mental health, and childcare at a very challenging time.

This report highlights veteran experiences and needs in health, housing stability, financial stability, and social support. This needs assessment’s original focus was on veterans not yet in acute need but who could benefit from interventions not currently available. However, since research was ongoing when the pandemic hit, it also provides a valuable snapshot of unexpected, acute, and developing needs related to the global crisis. By analyzing the life circumstances and needs of Massachusetts veterans through phone interviews, interviews with key stakeholders and community leaders, and publicly available data, this report lays out how COVID-19 has affected the local veteran community. Expected trends in the veteran population of Massachusetts are projected into the future to facilitate the agencies and organizations dedicated to serving veterans, otherwise known as the “sea of goodwill,” in the Commonwealth to plan for anticipated needs.

Additionally, the needs assessment highlights the difference in perception between what resources are available to veterans and what resources veterans are actually aware of and use. It also offers recommendations for veteran-serving organizations to expand their outreach to improve awareness among the populations they serve. To better provide services and assistance to the veteran community, it is critical to match expectations with reality. While stakeholders and leaders may be aware of the resources their specific organizations offer, the interview results indicate that most veterans are simply not aware of their eligibility or the resources available, which in effect diminishes the support. By refining outreach techniques to reach a broader segment of the veteran community, organizations can spread a wider net and ultimately better assist veterans.

Several caveats limit this research and needs assessment. Primary source research from local veterans in Western Massachusetts was limited, and therefore secondary research was used to supplement. Much of the background research is based on publicly available data that was collected prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic; the landscape has changed significantly for both veterans and nonveterans. Health, housing, education, finances, and social interactions all have been dramatically affected by the public health crisis. These limitations offer opportunities for future research relevant to Massachusetts veterans.

This assessment takes a holistic look at the lives of veterans and their families, concentrating on four interconnected life domains, all of which can be affected by interventions: health, financial stability, housing, and social support. Given the prevalence of colleges and universities in Massachusetts, higher education is also given particular attention. Looking at the experiences and needs of all veterans, the focus covers generations, gender, racial and ethnic identity, sexual orientation and gender identity, and student veterans. The report examines the needs of veterans across Massachusetts with an emphasis on the greater Boston region, due to population density and geographic location. Data for specific veteran subpopulations in Massachusetts was not always available; when necessary, nationwide data is used as a baseline.


The authors would like to thank the many individuals and organizations that have contributed to and inspired the development of this research. In addition, the authors extend their gratitude to John Boerstler and Rajeev Ramchand for their time reviewing the report. The research team extends their thanks to James Santos for his insights. Finally, the authors express their sincere appreciation to CNAS colleagues Melody Cook, Maura McCarthy, and Emma Swislow for their time and attention in supporting the work.

This report was made possible with support from Brighton Marine. The views presented here are those of the authors and not necessary those of Brighton Marine or its directors, officers, and staff.

As a research and policy institution committed to the highest standards of organizational, intellectual, and personal integrity, CNAS maintains strict intellectual independence and sole editorial direction and control over its ideas, projects, publications, events, and other research activities. CNAS does not take institutional positions on ​policy issues and the content of CNAS publications reflects the views of their authors alone. In keeping with its mission and values, CNAS does not engage in lobbying activity and complies fully with all applicable federal, state, and local laws. CNAS will not engage in any representational activities or advocacy on behalf of any entities or interests and, to the extent that the Center accepts funding from non-U.S. sources, its activities will be limited to bona fide scholastic, academic, and research-related activities, consistent with applicable federal law. The Center publicly acknowledges on its website annually all donors who contribute.

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  1. Kimberly Hefling, “Vets to Congress: Cut off for-profit colleges’ incentive to recruit student veterans,” Politico, March 29, 2019,
  2. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, The 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAH) to Congress, Part I (January 2020), 54,
  3. “Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program,” George W. Bush Presidential Center,


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