Balancing privacy concerns with the opportunity to improve outcomes and more effectively target resources by using data is a key component of helping the veteran community, according to the George W. Bush Institute.

In a series of articles, Military Times is examining each of these four recommendations from the institute:

· The administration should refine a national veterans strategy.

· The DoD should leverage veteran and military family communities to sustain an all-volunteer force.

· The DoD should invest further in the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) for the 21st century.

· The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration should focus on advancing data collaboration.

“There are privacy concerns, but there are also opportunities to more effectively target resources by using data,” said Col. Matthew F. Amidon, former director of veterans and military families at the institute.

The fourth recommendation, a call to increase focus on advancing data collaboration, is exciting because it can allow underserved populations to receive targeted services, Amidon said. The all-volunteer force is more diverse than ever, with 15 percent of active duty service members being women and 16 percent being African American, according to data from Rand.

With more data on how to assist these groups, Amidon said it will better allow for more tailored resources while serving, and also upon transitioning back to civilian life.

The Bush Institute’s recommendation includes proposing a Congressional mandate to capture consistent data – specifically, finding better ways to measure the economic health of veterans.

Gary J. Kunich, a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said his office collects data through surveys, key engagements, databases, focus and working groups and web and digital media to help serve their veterans. They also work closely with other agencies and have policies in place to help advance racial equity and support, as well as the Deborah Sampson Act, a task force for women veterans.

“We are always seeking ways to ensure we deliver the best care and access to benefit all veterans, but also have taken critical steps in doing so for underserved veteran populations,” Kunich said.

A more complete data set can also provide more details on which veteran populations have the greatest need, especially when it comes to economics. Amidon said one example is tailoring data to analyze not just if a veteran is employed, but if they are making enough money to support themselves and their family in the area they live.

Ross Dickman, COO for Hire Heroes USA, a veteran employment nonprofit that has helped more than 75,000 veterans and spouses find jobs, said many veterans are underemployed. Being able to have data to show what constitutes meaningful employment is necessary, Dickman said.

“I applaud (the Bush Institute’s) policy paper,” Dickman said. “We know things need to be improved and modified so we can meet the needs of today’s veterans.”

Amidon said connecting the VA/DoD Identity Repository (VADIR) database and payroll information – and linking that with geographic data from the Social Security Administration – could provide that kind of detail.

“Certain subpopulations are underearning,” Amidon said. “And there’s an enormous array of resources available, but how do you target them? That’s what we are seeking here.”

Kunich said the VA has minority veteran program coordinators in each state’s regional office and can “triage” the needs and routes to provide more tailored post-service experiences.

“Data is used to improve the veteran experience, understand local catchment areas and gaps in care and access, and develop sound outreach to every veteran population,” Kunich said. “We also have an Internal Data Governance Working Group that provides input and suggestions to best use this information.”

Amidon said veterans are a large group and have a diverse array of talents. Ensuring the best outcomes for veterans is good for business and community – and, of course, the vets themselves.

“The Bush Institute is out here to influence change,” Amidon said.

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