Last month, UMass Boston’s William Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequence presented research findings from a Veteran Service Officer pilot study at the Eastern Sociological Society's annual conference, and at the ESS Military Sociology Mini-Conference.
The pilot study was conducted in summer of 2021 by William Joiner Institute Co-Directors Ana L. Alejandro and Thomas C. Miller, and research assistants Benjamin V. Nguyen, Steve S. Medeiros and Abhishek Jain. It gathered best practices utilized and challenges faced by Veteran Service Officers in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The study attempted to build on previous research on veteran’s services published in June 2020 by the UMass Boston’s Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging, and the William Joiner Institute for the Town of Natick, Mass. The results of this study identified several important recommendations including updating Veteran contact lists, tracking number of Veterans served annually, increasing communications, partnering with local universities to collaborate, and reinforcing capacity of the Natick Veteran Service Officer office. In an effort to more broadly assess some of these recommendations, the UMass Boston’s William Joiner Institute collected additional information related to these areas, as well as demographic information from Veteran Service Officers across Massachusetts. At the same time, the survey asked VSOs to identify challenges and best practices utilized in supporting the Veteran populations they serve. This pilot surveyed approximately 222 VSOs in the Commonwealth, with 46 responding and providing demographic information and a variety of challenges and best practices, specifically in areas of support, diversity, training, resources, and communications.
While the survey conducted with Veteran Service Officer's in Massachusetts was nominally successful, the data sample population may not be large enough to draw broad sweeping conclusions or definitive recommendations for major changes without more in-depth study. However, the data collected does provide some potential opportunities to strengthen the Veteran Service Officer-Veteran connection as well as VSO-State/City/Town connection, and therefore service and support. Here are some of the key recommendations:
- Conduct a more in-depth study in partnership with state level Veteran Service Officer organizations including Veteran interviews to capture both perspectives of the VSO-Veteran relationship. Evaluate the impact of race, ethnicity, gender and age on the Veteran-VSO relationship. Analyze staffing and budget models of Veteran Service Office offices, and VSO training and any impact on service to their respective Veteran communities.
- Explore collaborative partnerships for new/novel staffing options to provide regular communication and social media support. For example, partnering with a local institution of higher education to find and hire Veteran Affairs Work Study students to serve as Communications Assistants in Veteran Service Office offices to assist with social media and website, file management, record keeping and communications to possibly include:
- Updating the contact list with current email and/or other contact information.
- Generating a monthly or bi-monthly newsletters with resources, updates, events, etc.
- Working on the digital media presence for the Veteran Service Offices.
- Hosting virtual hours could also be helpful in connecting with Veterans who can’t visit in person or just want to get some information.
- Attending events, accessing resources organized by Veteran Affairs and other government organizations regarding web and social media.
As part of the mission of the William Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequence team, members will continue to combine research with actionable recommendations to improve the lives of those affected by war or military service. It is hoped that by building on this work here in Massachusetts, a model for service improvement to our military can be developed, shared with, and scaled nationally. If you would like to learn more about this study's results or other projects and initiatives the William Joiner Institute is working on, please reach out to Ana.Alejandro001@umb.edu or Thomas.Miller@umb.edu.