November 26, 2019
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last week authorized more than $33 million over the next three years for an innovative veteran peer-to-peer program tackling persistent issues like homelessness, suicide and unemployment that too often afflict service members transitioning to civilian life. The program, called Veteran Peer Access Network (VPAN), will deploy trained Veteran and Military Family Peers throughout LA County to connect veterans and their families to critical resources including housing, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, job placement and legal services.
With the county home to nearly 300,000 veterans and approximately 10,000 per year calling LA home post-military service – the highest concentration in the U.S. – nothing similar has been attempted on this scale.
“Our service members and veterans face significant challenges when they return home,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who co-authored the board’s motion, passed unanimously on November 19. “We must help our veterans attain the housing and services they have rightfully earned. Navigating the VA, CalVet or community-based organizations should not hinder them from receiving help.”
Veterans and their families can expect an immediate improvement accessing benefits and services as VPAN ramps up. The network will partner with first responders, courts and jails, hospitals, national guard and reserve units, universities and temporary housing programs to find veterans who need care.
Pro-active assistance – finding veterans before a potential moment of crisis – is a critical facet of VPAN. The program includes a number of other unique features as well.
It is the first publicly funded, community-driven support network serving veterans and their families in the U.S. It is also a public-private partnership, with Southern California Grantmakers (SCG) serving as VPAN’s fiscal intermediary. LA County’s agreement with SCG, budgeted at $13.8 million for three years, is designed to foster “veteran-focused partnerships to drive innovation and influence in the veteran community.”
This collaboration will significantly speed up VPAN’s operational timeline and open additional funding opportunities for regional philanthropy.
The board motion creates 92 jobs, including 80 Veteran and Military Family Peers working out of VPAN Rally Points in all five supervisorial districts. The Rally Points will offer a variety of services and function as community gathering places where veterans and their families can meet and socialize.
A total of 40 Peers (five 8-member teams) comprised of veterans, military family members and caregivers will work directly for the LA County Department of Mental Health. Community-based organizations identified by and funded through SCG will hire an additional 40 Peers (five more 8-member teams).
The parallel structure adds a level of flexibility and engagement LA County could not provide on its own; it also reinforces VPAN’s role as a community-based initiative.
“Building partnerships with community-based organizations that support LA County’s veterans is critical to VPAN’s success,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the board motion’s co-author. “Cross-sector collaboration will enable the County to provide additional resources to combat issues such as homelessness and suicide so our veterans do not fall through the cracks.”
VPAN is expected to begin hiring Peers early next year, with the network operational by mid-2020.
SCG will secure countywide training and certification for up to 100 Peers focused on trauma-informed service provision and utilizing lived-experiences to support and encourage other veterans. Additional training, in areas such as risk mitigation and self-care, will be offered through VSOs and local universities.
The board’s $33.2 million, 3-year motion supplements an initial $20 million the supervisors unanimously approved in May 2018 to provide temporary as well as permanent supportive housing for at-risk veterans experiencing homelessness and serious mental illness in LA County.
VPAN embodies the #YouMatter ideal – that veterans deserve hope, well-being, and a greater quality of life as valued LA County citizens.