Veterans Summit 2014

By Carolyn Livengood, San Mateo County Times

Nov. 21, 2014

A panel of veterans told their stories of life after service to 140 attendees at the County of San Mateo 2014 Veterans Summit, a gathering of veterans' stakeholders held at the Crowne Plaza Foster City to learn about the needs of veterans in our county.

The event provided an opportunity for the San Mateo County Manager's Office and Human Services Agency to share the initial results of a Veterans Needs Assessment that was initiated in July to determine what specific programs and services may help improve the lives of veterans living in San Mateo County.

"San Mateo County is home to some 33,000 veterans who have served in our country's defense," said San Mateo County Supervise Warren Slocum, a former Vietnam War veteran, as he welcomed everyone to the Summit. "By gathering the data and initiating a conversation about veterans needs in San Mateo County, we have the opportunity to prioritize need, strengthen the network of collaborative partners, and respond more effectively to those who have served."

"Through open conversation, using data to inform our learning, and seeking stakeholder and community input on social issues, we promote our belief that the best ideas come from working together," Iliana Rodriguez, Human Services Agency director said. "This first San Mateo County Veterans Summit is only the beginning of a community conversation, and I look forward to creating a better process together."

The County of San Mateo partnered with Applied Survey Research to conduct the needs assessment by collecting and analyzing data from more then 25 different sources, including demographic studies, interviews and focus groups.

Some of the data collected revealed that:

* 54 percent of San Mateo County veterans are 65 or older with 31.6 percent having served in Vietnam.

* Housing and employment are the top needs for veterans as approximately 12 percent of unsheltered homeless people are veterans, based on the 2013 San Mateo County Homeless Census and Survey, and roughly 9 percent of the veterans were unemployed from 2010 to 2012.

* 3,000 of Vietnam War veterans and 539 Gulf War veterans in our county are potentially affected by post-traumatic stress disorder. (Slocum stated that the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is under construction in Menlo Park and is anticipated to open in December 2016.)

* Some veterans in our county reported legal and criminal justice challengers; San Mateo County Veterans Treatment Court is one of only 11 veterans courts in California.

It is obvious that San Mateo County faces the challenge of ending veterans' homelessness despite the 30 percent reduction in the total number of homeless veterans since 2011, as well as providing more behavioral and mental health services, housing assistance, employment opportunities, and easier access to benefits and services as indicated by the ASR report. Many veterans do know that they are eligible for benefits, and they are not always sure if they are even considered veterans.

"What I haven't heard is that women veterans are being helped," one of the panelists said. "People don't see our invisible injuries!"

The Veterans Summit feedback will be included in the final needs assessment report, which will also give recommendations on key needs and gaps in services and identify best ways to implement them, including staffing models and a veterans' assistance plan for consideration by the Board of Supervisors in January.

The County currently offers our County veterans legal assistance through the Veterans Treatment Court, housing, employment, and behavioral health and recovery services through the Veterans Services Office.

"This year, the County will also launch an identification program for veterans to gain better access to County services and receive discounts at local retailers and restaurant," Rodriguez said.

Following the speakers, attendees participated in group discussions to reflect on the data presented and identify in a collaborative forum the challenges and issues facing veterans accessing services and what may be done in key areas to bring about changes.

"While the federal government provides healthcare and other services at the VA, we know there are unmet needs," Slocum said. "It's time to take stock, understand the gaps in care, and do right by the veterans in our local communities."