Introduction and Executive Summary
After 9/11, initial public displays of support for service members coalesced into what has been called a “Sea of Goodwill” consisting of public, private, and nonprofit organizations offering programs and services to military personnel and veterans, their families and caregivers, and survivors. Collaborative efforts have led to tremendous progress in addressing some identified challenges: The number of homeless veterans nationwide has been cut in half, and veteran unemployment has been lower than that of nonveteran peers for nearly two years. At the same time, these gains have not manifested to the same degree across the entire veteran population: Disparities exist between the outcomes of minority veterans and their nonminority veteran peers. This report assesses the extent of those disparities for women; racial/ethnic minority veterans; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals.
Analyzing the circumstances of minority veterans through focus groups, site visits to veteran-serving organizations, interviews with key stakeholders, and publicly available data, this needs assessment identifies: a) the differences between outcomes for minority versus nonminority veterans, as well as between minority veterans and their minority nonveteran counterparts; b) likely causes for identified variations, and c) recommendations for organizations that serve veterans to enhance equitable outcomes across the population. This needs assessment examines outcomes across four life domains: health, housing stability, financial stability, and social functioning. Supplementing data with the perspectives of minority veterans themselves, along with key stake-holders who support them, provides valuable context for those who wish to better serve this community.
To continue improving outcomes for those who have served the nation, it is imperative to develop a deeper understanding of whether there are specific veteran subpopulations that are faring differently from their peers. By developing a more nuanced understanding of the challenges different groups of veterans face, organizations can better target outreach and interventions to help these underserved populations overcome barriers and thrive.
Among this needs assessment’s most significant findings are the following:
- Veteran status is largely protective: Veterans of many minority groups have better outcomes across multiple measures than their nonveteran counterparts. However, minority veterans’ outcomes are not on par with those of white cisgender men veterans.
- For example, black veterans experience unemployment at lower rates than black nonveterans but higher rates than white veterans, and women veterans have higher incomes than women nonveterans but lower incomes than men veterans.
- There is insufficient data across veteran minority groups and measures to conduct comprehensive analyses, particularly for LGBT veterans overall and for those with multiple minority statuses; more research is needed.
- Women and LGBT veterans often find the environment at traditional veterans service organizations and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) unwelcoming due to harassment and discrimination; this can cause harm across life domains by reducing access to care, benefits, and social support.
- Traditional homeless shelters pose barriers to single mothers and LGBT veterans.
- Health care for Native American veterans is bureaucratically complicated and often difficult to access due to a lack of cultural competency and the significant barriers between Native American institutions and those of the general population.
- CNAS identified a number of recommendations for those who serve and support veterans to improve research, outreach, and equitable services within the veteran community and beyond.
Several caveats limit this research, including that data specific to religious minorities was unavailable for useful comparisons; and multiple additional factors intersect with the examined categories to impact veteran outcomes, including age and disability status, among others. These limitations suggest additional opportunities for future research and analysis.
This project first provides the framework for this analysis and background on minority veterans and social determinants of health (SDH) to give context for the needs assessment. The second section presents the demographics of minority veterans in New York State specifically, and in the United States as a whole. The third section details the findings about minority sub-populations/ experiences in the four life domains. The final section provides recommendations to researchers, veterans service organizations, and the Department of Veterans Affairs and provides a high-level conclusion about these challenges.
Ultimately, the key takeaway from this research is that veterans are members of American society and are affected by many of the same challenges that their nonveteran peers face. Military service can help overcome many, but not all, structural and institutional barriers that have a disproportionate impact on women and minorities. Understanding the needs of minority veterans will serve all veterans, who will similarly see improvements in services and programs. Those who wish to see equity within the veteran population must acknowledge and confront those issues both within the veteran-serving space and the broader community.
Download the full report.
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