Audit Recommends VA Work Closer With Veterans Organizations

Audit Recommends VA Work Closer With Veterans Organizations
VA Secretary Denis McDonough addresses MOAA members during the 2021 annual meeting in Arlington, Va. (Sean Shanahan/for MOAA)

The VA could do more to work with veterans organizations like MOAA to help servicemembers in their first year after leaving service, a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report revealed. 


The GAO audited VA’s Solid Start program, an outreach initiative launched in 2019 to proactively connect with veterans during their first year after leaving service. A VA representative contacts the veteran at a minimum three times a year to identify their specific needs and to identify benefits and services to address their needs and interests. The program is also intended to build a relationship of trust between the veteran and the VA. 


[RELATED: VA’s Solid Start Program Reaches Nearly 70,000 Veterans in First Year] 


Veterans’ contact rates and benefits usage have steadily increased since the program’s inception, per the GAO report.  


“In 2021, representatives successfully contacted about 71% of eligible veterans,” the report stated. “VA’s analysis showed these veterans used benefits, such as VA health care, to a greater extent than their peers who did not speak with a Solid Start representative.” 


While a successful program, GAO determined the VA could do more with the assistance of veterans organizations to help VA identify gaps and to develop strategies to connect with hard-to-reach groups of veterans. 


“Veterans organizations can leverage their relationships with these … veterans to provide them with information about Solid Start directly and encourage them to engage with Solid Start representatives,” the report states. 


Some of the outreach gaps and groups identified in the report included veterans under the age of 23, the homeless, those with technology challenges, or individuals skeptical about connecting with the VA.  


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VA’s Progress Since the Audit  

The VA has made progress in implementing GAO’s recommendations and those provided by veterans organizations interviewed during the audit. The department acknowledged it needed to do a better job of collaborating with veterans organizations and using other communication methods for connecting with hard-to-reach veterans. 


The VA acknowledged using cold calling poses a challenge because some calls are being marked as spam. By working with the Federal Trade Commission and network providers, the VA hopes to resolve the spam issue. Additionally, the department plans to launch a pilot program in the first half of 2023 to use text messaging to schedule calls with veterans in advance so representatives can link up with those resistant to cold calls. 


The Solid Start program materials also are available on VA’s website so VA employees, veterans organizations, and the public can educate veterans and encourage them to contact the VA. 


More About the Solid Start Program 

The VA launched the Solid Start program in response to a 2018 White House executive order to curb the rising rate of suicides in the uniformed services community. At the time, suicide rates for veterans in their first year of separation from service were twice the rate of all veterans. The program was part of a broader administration joint action plan to help connect veterans with their benefits and resources across the federal government. MOAA and other veterans organizations worked with the administration and Congress last year to codify the program in law.   


The Solid Start program is first introduced to servicemembers during the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) before leaving service. The VA TAP briefings cover benefits and services, including the Solid Start program, available to help servicemembers with their transition to civilian life. The VA realized servicemembers are bombarded with information when leaving service and set up the program to contact veterans at regular intervals during that first year as a civilian.  


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The program also provides additional assistance to veterans who had an appointment with a mental health care provider in the year prior to their separation from service. These individuals are called about three weeks after separation, rather than waiting until the usual 90-day mark. This means the VA and DoD must work closely to help identify veterans at greater risk.  


How MOAA Can Help  

MOAA is committed to helping servicemembers, veterans, and their spouses throughout their careers in and out of uniform. We are pleased to see the great progress the VA has made through the Solid Start program; MOAA will work to ensure those transitioning are aware of the program, as well as MOAA’s great transition resources and services.   


A wide range of resources are available at MOAA’s Transition and Career Center for individuals separating from service, planning a career change, seeking a promotion, looking to better understand their earned benefits, and much more.  


Check out these resources and become a MOAA member or legislative advocate today. 


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About the Author

Cmdr. René Campos, USN (Ret)
Cmdr. René Campos, USN (Ret)

Campos currently serves as MOAA's Senior Director of Government Relations, managing matters related to military and veterans’ health care, wounded, ill and injured, and caregiver policy.