First, of course, veterans need to know that community-based supports exist and have reason to believe that the services offered are relevant to their lives. Many organizations have expressed difficulty creating appropriate language and engaging with veterans for services.
- Use clear, simple language and design to make your materials accessible to a broad range of veterans: including those experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and stress related to housing and employment needs. Use language that shows you have knowledge of the veteran experience and possible resources.
- Avoid overly patriotic or military imagery. Veterans have different feelings about their service and an overabundance of such images can be a turnoff. Overuse of flags and yellow ribbons may appear superficial and clichéd rather than project a deeper understanding of veteran services.
- Provide specific information about services provided and eligibility. If veterans respond to outreach materials only to learn that they are not actually available to them, this can spoil any impetus to seek help. If veterans must have served at a specific time, or in a specific branch, or must have received specific discharge types—make that clear.
- Do not rely solely on online outreach. Younger veterans tend to get information through online and social media sources. However, do not assume that all veterans have access to computers, smart phones or internet access.
- Conduct targeted outreach at locations where specific veteran cohorts may be found: Women health clinics, family service offices, LGBTQ+ community centers, community colleges, religious institutions, sports clubs and sporting events, and street outreach. Be creative.
- What language do you include?
- Do your outreach materials convey that you have a cultural knowledge and understanding of their military and veteran experience?
- Are they simple and easy to understand?
- Do you provide clear steps for accessing care?
- Is your contact information front and center, and is there a direct line or email address with a contact person listed?
- Do you have a veteran webpage? Is it easy to find?
- Do you have a veteran campaign on your social media platforms? Are you engaging veteran groups through social media?
- Is it clear what services you will provide?
- Is written information in large print with clear steps for accessing care?
- Is eligibility for services clear to understand?
- Are veterans sure what services and support they will receive?
- If you provide flexible hours, is this mentioned?
- Are there referral networks that can cover a comprehensive level of care—so if you cannot provide the service, you can refer out—and is that clear?
If your services address homelessness, mental health need, substance use and housing assistance, you should engage in street outreach. Those who experience chronic homelessness will not necessarily come to you seeking care. Quite the opposite, it can take repeated outreach to develop trust so that discussions of services or consideration of housing options can take place.
Outreach staff should develop relationships with security personnel, homeless providers, public transportation hubs, and others to assist in identifying veterans on the streets. Peer outreach by veterans and staff who have experienced homelessness is especially effective to develop trust and break down barriers to care.
Family members are often the first to see changes in behavior and difficulties in managing transition. Military spouses and families carry the stresses of military life, such as moves from one duty station to another, acting as the sole caregiver for children during deployment, and adjusting back to “normal” family life after extended periods of physical separation. The stress of learning to adapt to behavioral and physical changes, new communication techniques, and expectations can be overwhelming, not to mention the pain of seeing a loved one struggle.
After service, they are also often the ones who do the research and seek out services for their veteran spouse, child, parents or partners. Added to this, if a veteran is unable to work, they must be the sole financial provider for the family. This is especially burdensome when they must also juggle caring for them and navigating their care.
Research has found a direct relationship between a family’s ability to adapt and cope with trauma and the patient’s success with rehabilitation and reintegration. Providers should integrate the family to treatment course and ensure that they have the supports they need to address caregiver burden.
- Families can often provide the best perspective on changes in the veteran as a result of the injury. For example, they can spot behavioral changes after a TBI that others may miss, such as changes in speech and mood.
- Encourage caregivers to seek counseling and pursue respite and self-care.