Veterans’ Health

Grantee Name

Syracuse University, Institute for Veterans and Military Families

Funding Area

Veterans’ Health

Publication Date

August 2020

Grant Amount

$215,626

Grant Date:

June 2017–March 2020

Today, every U.S. state has a Division of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) dedicated to assisting veterans with the numerous issues they may face. New York is no exception.

However, because the specific needs of each state’s veteran population are different, wide variations exist across DVAs in terms of budget, structure, staffing, and breadth of services offered. These variations make it difficult to evaluate the performance of New York State’s DVA without assessing it against DVAs of comparable states. Previously, there had not been a study to evaluate how well the New York State DVA is performing, whether its annual budget is sufficient, and whether its budget allocations reflect the needs of its members.

NYSHealth awarded a grant to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University to conduct a national survey of DVAs and a comprehensive analysis of state-specific veterans’ offices to better evaluate the performance of New York State’s DVA.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

  • Conducted the first-ever survey of all 50 states’ respective DVAs to establish a baseline understanding of veterans’ needs addressed by DVAs across the country. Among the top needs: benefits and claims assistance; behavioral and mental health; employment and training; long-term care; and housing.
  • Compiled an in-depth analysis of all state DVAs that highlights unique and successful approaches to addressing issues involving technology, service delivery, administration, and governance.
  • Created two interactive data visualization dashboards that provide additional information about each state’s innovative practices.
  • Developed criteria for identifying high-performing DVAs and examined 10 case studies to reveal key characteristics leading to each state’s success, which include:
    • diversity of experience and continuity of leadership;
    • stable federal, state, and local funding;
    • independent political structure; and
    • political engagement.
  • Published a report on New York State’s DVA, “A Strategic Roadmap to Enhance the Role and Impact of the New York State Division of Veterans’ Services,” that analyzes how the State compares with its counterparts across the nation and outlines areas for improvement. Among the key findings:
    • New York’s organizational structure is well configured when compared with other states, but can be improved with continuous leadership and by establishing a direct reporting line between the DVA director and the governor.
    • New York spends nearly $200 less per veteran compared with the average DVA.
    • New York should adapt best practices from other states to improve its own service innovations.
    • New York’s DVA should play a larger role in coordinating services between other local, State, and federal agencies to better assist veterans with navigating available resources.
  • Worked with the VA Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and the National Association of State
    Directors of Veterans Affairs to brief key leaders on report findings.

Briefed members of the New York State Assembly’s veterans’ affairs committee and other State legislators on report findings.

Within New York State, IVMF’s findings were well received, and nearly all recommendations were publicly supported by the director of New York State’s Division of Veterans’ Services at an NYSHealth event in September 2019. However, two key recommendations—a budget increase and restructuring of the organization—are unlikely to be implemented, as the State’s director has since left the agency, interrupting the continuity of leadership, and because of State budget constraints.

Outside of New York State, in response to IVMF’s analyses, Pennsylvania has created an internal joint task force to strengthen its DVA, while IVMF continues working with other states (such as Massachusetts and Alabama) that have requested more information on strengthening their DVAs.

A challenge of this grant was that NYSHealth and the IVMF team had different priorities during the project, which resulted in delays. IVMF was focused on collecting national-level data to inform the baseline for analysis, rather than placing emphasis on New York State. Similarly, miscommunication surrounding the structure of the report, as well as key personnel turnover, contributed to delays in the report’s release. In the future, NYSHealth will work with grantees to ensure clear communication and alignment of priorities, including establishing more frequent check-ins and clear timelines.

Co-Funding and Additional Funds Leveraged: N/A