Faith-based organizations (FBOs) are an important community-based resource for veterans as they readjust to civilian life. Since little is known about the nature of this support, we conducted exploratory interviews with 14 national organizations involved in faith-based support of veterans and 15 smaller, local FBOs from three distinct metropolitan areas, including religious congregations, retreat centers, and those that provide transitional assistance, to understand better their current and potential roles in veteran reintegration.
- FBOs not only attend to veterans' spiritual needs but also address many other areas of veteran health and wellness.
- FBOs are already interacting with other organizations in the web of reintegration support but to varying degrees and with different levels of success.
- FBO efforts are sometimes limited by resource and capacity constraints, insufficient connections within the web of support, lack of awareness or experience with veterans, and characteristics of veterans themselves.
- Partnerships may be necessary to fully realize FBO capacity to support veterans and to gauge the effectiveness of such support.
Interviewees suggested that veterans may look to FBOs for support because they are a resource that offers privacy and confidentiality, two features that may be especially critical when a potential stigma is involved. Some FBOs have also developed reputations as safe places for veterans, providing supportive, judgment-free environments. We found that FBOs not only help veterans with spiritual matters, such as moral injury, but, as a group, also address diverse areas of veteran health and wellness, including vocation, education, financial and legal stability, shelter, access to goods and services, mental health, access to health care, physical health, family, and social networks. In some cases, the support is offered to veterans directly; in other instances, the support is indirect, via training individuals to help veterans or educating the public about veterans' reintegration challenges.
In the process of providing this support, FBOs interact with different kinds of organizations, including government entities, private nonprofits, and one another, for purposes including training, outreach, referrals, information exchange, obtaining donations, and collaboration. Yet insufficient connections with chaplains and others in the web of support at times limit FBOs' work with veterans. Other barriers to support include resource and capacity constraints, lack of awareness or experience with veterans, issues related to religious philosophy or orientation, and characteristics of veterans themselves. In addition, some FBOs do not measure their impact, which can hinder their ability to support veterans most effectively and efficiently.
To move forward, we offer several recommendations for policymakers, organizations that interact with FBOs, and FBOs themselves to help FBOs engage fully in the web of reintegration support:
- Help FBOs learn more about the veterans in their midst and how to help them most effectively. We interviewed several organizations that are ramping up efforts to do this, but the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) can assist on this front as well.
- Government agencies, VSOs, and policymakers should acknowledge FBOs as a source of reintegration support for veterans, particularly for moral injury.
- Government agencies and others that facilitate support should ensure FBOs are well integrated into veterans' resource directories, especially more comprehensive compendiums, such as the federally sponsored National Resource Directory.
- Connect chaplains and FBOs at the local level. Community institutions that have chaplains, such as police departments, universities, and hospitals, along with chaplains' associations and the VA, can all help to facilitate these linkages.
- Build capacity among FBOs to measure the extent and effectiveness of their support. Organizations that train FBOs to support veterans, as well as those that seek to partner with FBOs, could provide guidance to or even mentor FBOs.
FBOs have potential as a force multiplier in reintegration support, but our findings also suggest that policymakers and those who seek to work with FBOs must be mindful of their limitations and, ideally, develop strategies to help mitigate them.
This study was prepared as part of RAND's ongoing programs for Investing in People and Ideas. This research was conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of RAND's RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.