Cover: What Are Organizations Doing to Strengthen Veterans' Social Connections?

What Are Organizations Doing to Strengthen Veterans' Social Connections?

An Examination of Program Operations and Evaluation Efforts

Published May 22, 2023

by Laura Werber, Jessica Phillips, Lauren Skrabala

Download Free Electronic Document

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 1 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.

Research Questions

  1. What programs and activities to support social connectedness are available to veterans?
  2. How do veteran-serving organizations evaluate and measure the effectiveness of their social connectedness–oriented programs?
  3. What barriers prevent veteran-serving organizations from evaluating their social connectedness–oriented programs?

Veteran-serving organizations across the United States offer programs to support veteran wellness as veterans transition from military to civilian life, but little is known about the services and activities these programs offer to promote veteran social connectedness and reduce the risk of isolation — or how these organizations measure the effectiveness of those efforts. A web-based, national survey of veteran-serving organizations, interviews with organizations that offer programs to strengthen veterans' social connections, and a first-of-its-kind program typology provide new insights into the types of support available to help veterans build these connections, how organizations evaluate their programs' effectiveness, and where they would benefit from assistance to overcome barriers to program evaluation.

Key Findings

  • Research indicates that veterans who feel connected to family, friends, colleagues, other veterans, and their communities have substantially better mental health outcomes than those who do not, but few studies have examined programs that promote this social connectedness.
  • A survey and interviews with representatives from veteran-serving organizations found a variety of programs to support veteran wellness and social connectedness. A typology of social connectedness programs developed as part of this study provides an expansive view of program offerings, reveals patterns in the types of activities available to veterans, and offers a foundation for future research efforts.
  • Despite offering programs intended to build veterans' social connections, organizations struggled to measure social connectedness.
  • Most organizations tried to evaluate their social connectedness-oriented programs and saw the value in evaluations, but they often faced practical barriers to doing so, including data collection challenges and insufficient resources.
  • A solid foundation for evaluating veteran social connectedness programs would facilitate internal program improvement efforts and offer additional external benefits, such as attracting future participants, informing donor funding decisions, and aiding the identification and dissemination of evidence-based practices for promoting veteran social connectedness.

Recommendations

  • Expand the research base on how various types of programs and activities support veteran social connectedness.
  • Develop step-by-step guidance for evaluating social connectedness–oriented programs that can be implemented by organizations that are short on staff and funding.
  • Identify promising strategies to measure impact of social connectedness–oriented programs in additional domains of veteran wellness.
  • Consider whether programs currently supporting other aspects of veteran wellness have an additional benefit: an impact on veteran social connectedness.
  • Consider whether programs supporting other aspects of veteran wellness can be readily modified to achieve this additional benefit.
  • Provide resources to help organizations surmount program evaluation barriers and promote veteran social connectedness programs more generally.
  • Add social connectedness as a category to existing veterans resource databases.

Research conducted by

Funding for this research was made possible by a generous gift from Daniel J. Epstein through the Epstein Family Foundation. The research was conducted by the RAND Epstein Family Veterans Policy Research Institute within RAND Education and Labor.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit www.rand.org/pubs/permissions.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.