In 2008, while exploring the needs of New Yorkers coping with both mental health and substance use disorders at the same time, NYSHealth identified returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and their families as a high-need population whose concerns were not being met. A 2011 needs assessment made clear that New York’s returning veterans and their families would benefit from greater support if they had access to a wider range of resources affecting their health and well-being—not only health care and mental health, but also education, employment, and housing services. Nearly half of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan would prefer to receive care and services in their communities, rather than through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) system. Outreach to connect veterans and their families with existing services and better coordination among government and community agencies are essential for this generation of veterans, who are more likely to return to neighborhoods than to military bases.
NYSHealth’s work in this area seeks to underscore that the health and mental health issues returning veterans and their families face are not solely military issues, but public and community health issues that should be addressed by local and national government agencies, community-based organizations, and health funders. Our goals include:
- Expanding choices and access to community-based services and care, beyond what is available in VA-run facilities.
- Leveraging federal and private funding opportunities to increase the dollars available for services for returning veterans in New York State.
- Serving as a thought leader, convener, and advocate to improve the health of returning veterans and their families through public policy and awareness strategies.