In 2014, 50% of U.S. veterans diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) did not seek treatment, and every day an average of 20 veterans died from suicide. These startling numbers only continue to grow as the nation’s 21.8 million veterans continue to face mounting issues as they transition back to civilian life. With suicide, homelessness, depression, and substance abuse at an all-time high for veterans, many do not know where to turn for help.
Although veterans in the United States may be one of the largest populations that have hundreds of benefits allotted to them, many do not understand their given benefits. In a 2010 National Survey of Veterans, only 41% indicated that they understood their general benefits, and only 19.8% had sought information on eligibility for VA healthcare in the past year. Despite the considerable amount of benefits and programs specifically created to help veterans in need, many veterans remain confused and overwhelmed about where to start looking for help.
Fortunately, many states and counties in the nation are making this process easier through simple methods such as using phone numbers, texts, and websites to contact Information & Referral Specialists. These agents are specifically trained to use resource databases to quickly find information for anyone looking to receive certain services and community resources that will meet their needs in times of crisis. Veterans, especially, can benefit from these services as I&R Specialists can quickly narrow down and find the information that is relevant to them, and avoid timely and overwhelming searches that might only lead to giving up.
Studies have already begun to show that those veterans who are gaining access to the right services are decreasing their chances of suicide—and these programs are only continuing to spread. As of March 2016, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported significant increases to VA services including a count of 300 VA Vet Centers along with 1,221 VA outpatient sites. With the influx of more services and sites for veterans in the coming years, information & referral services are becoming even more crucial to connect veterans with the information and resources they require as they transition to civilian life.
To keep up with this rising demand, I&R systems will need to continuously innovate to keep resource databases simple, accurate, and relevant. And with Information & Referral/Assistance services projected to reach $1.1 billion in net value to society over the next decade, there’s still a lot of veterans waiting to connect.