- Combined Arms - Houston, Texas
“While the majority of our clients access services via our website, there are some who have more trouble navigating that technology for a variety of reasons. That’s where our Intake Team comes in--providing personalized support to our more vulnerable veterans. While the Intake Team is comprised of trained professionals, we still need to build evidence to determine their effectiveness in supporting those clients to access the services they need.”
About 200,000 veterans transition from active military duty to civilian life every year. This is a boon to Americans everywhere, as veterans bring the skills and experiences they honed in the military home to share with their local communities. Service members are by nature resilient in the face of change. But the unique experiences that come with enlistment can pose obstacles in civilian life. As a result of these obstacles, veterans often endure additional difficulties with housing, employment, and health.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that the number of veterans experiencing homelessness in the United States has declined by nearly 50% since 2010, but the most recent count indicates that about 37,000 veterans still experience homelessness today. Further, the veteran unemployment rate—finally recovering after post-recession heights—spiked again during the COVID-19 pandemic and has yet to recover. Additionally, mental health and disability challenges among veterans are particularly prevalent, with many suffering from untreated post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and other service-related conditions.
We still have a lot to do in addressing these areas of concern for those who have served our country. Consider the circumstances of veterans in just one state—Texas, which has the second-largest veteran population in the country. More than 220,000 veterans there say they are living in homes that are low-quality, crowded, or cost-burdened—or a combination of these circumstances. A further 1,800 are estimated to be experiencing homelessness. At the same time, 23.6% of Texas veterans report facing service-related disabilities, as well as organizational, societal, and personal barriers to maintaining gainful employment. In a needs assessment of Houston-area veterans, they reported the highest levels of need for mental health, job placement, and housing services.
It’s clear that a lot of veterans need help. And a lot of organizations want to help veterans. But having so many organizations step to the plate creates a new problem: it’s harder for veterans to know who can best help them with their unique set of needs. Uncoordinated services across agencies add extra burden to veterans trying to navigate various eligibility and enrollment requirements and communicate with multiple staff. This confusion and inefficiency means veterans often don’t get the specific help they need, or they don’t get any help at all.
A 2016 Texas-wide veteran needs assessment bears this out. The study found service accessibility to be an important concern of veterans seeking services and support. Respondents shared some of the barriers they encounter when seeking help, including clunky systems that aren’t user-friendly and high eligibility demands that are hard to meet. To make things worse, veterans reported that the duration and demands of the service process undermined their sense of independence. Add this to the general stigma surrounding the use of social services in general, and it’s no surprise that so many veterans’ needs go unmet.
When we fail to help veterans fully integrate into civilian life, we all miss out on the full economic and personal potential that they have to offer our communities. Combined Arms of Texas exists to solve the access issues experienced by so many veterans. A hub with over eighty member organizations and over five hundred resources in one system, veterans can come to Combined Arms and get connected with exactly the combination of resources they need to protect their physical and mental health, and help them to get on a path towards financial independence and success for themselves and their families. Combined Arms sticks with veterans and the organizations they connect them to over time—making sure both keep working until veterans get what they need to succeed. Combined Arms’ model of one-stop-shopping and accountability has the potential to revolutionize the procurement of assistance for veterans and people in need throughout the country.
But even with Combined Arms acting as a liaison for veterans to more easily access services, barriers remain. Only about 16% of veterans who contact Combined Arms actually engage in services. It’s crucial for us to understand the causes behind this low engagement rate, and how to mitigate them.
Combined Arms acts as a single point of entry for military veterans and their families as they transition to civilian life, connecting them with a large network of services and community organizations that can support them. Veterans can access the Combined Arms network through an online platform that grants them access to community resources and services.
Not everyone can successfully navigate this technology, however. To help overcome this barrier, the Combined Arms intake team also offers personalized guidance for veterans who need a more personal touch, serving as a point of connection between veterans and veteran assistance services. Veterans connected to an intake team member receive a specialized needs assessment and customized guidance to help them locate and navigate the services they need.
Combined Arms is interested in learning which service method results in more veterans accessing needed services.
How do human-centered intake team services affect take-up into social services compared to web-driven referrals?
- Veterans assisted by the intake team will have higher rates of take-up into referred services than those who access services through the online platform.
- They will also see improved outcomes related to employment, earnings, benefit utilization, and health.
Research Study Design
The Combined Arms intake team study is a randomized controlled trial (RCT) designed to identify the impact that access to the intake team has on veteran outcomes.
Veterans who register with Combined Arms through the Combined Arms website are eligible for this study. Upon entering the online registration portal, clients create a profile with Combined Arms and complete the intake process.
To allocate resources fairly and run a rigorous impact evaluation, the LEO research team uses a lottery to determine who receives personalized services from the intake team. Those randomly selected to receive intake team services become part of the treatment group; they are contacted by intake team staff and given guidance and personal assistance with their referral to and connection with appropriate services. Those not randomly selected to receive intake team services become part of the control group; they receive “business as usual” Combined Arms services, which include the typical referrals made via the Combined Arms online platform.
Following the conclusion of the study, the LEO research team will compare the service take-up rates and financial stability of those who received intake team services to those who didn’t. By using random assignment, the proposed research design ensures that the research team will generate causal evidence on the impact of Combined Arms’ intake team. If the evidence shows these services to be effective in improving engagement in services and outcomes, this will increase Combined Arms’ ability to expand their program and ultimately serve more veterans.
(Photo credit: Combined Arms)