The survey questions only take about 10 minutes to answer.
But the results could bring about expansive service improvements for Northeast Florida veterans and their families and potentially lead to the establishment of a veteran wellness center in the area.
The 2022 Northeast Florida Veteran and Family Needs Assessment, the first-of-its-kind survey conducted here, will "best identify what our veterans need and help us create a plan to address it," Mayor Lenny Curry said.
The survey was launched Aug. 12 and runs through Sept. 21. It is open to adults age 18 and up who live in Duval, Baker, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties and are veterans or their family members and caregivers; active, guard or reserve members of the military; military family members; or employees of a military or veteran service organization that serves veterans and/or their families.
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Answers are anonymous. To take the survey or get more information, go to combinedarms.us/northeastfloridavets.
The results will be analyzed by the University of North Florida’s Center for Community Initiatives.
The survey is a partnership between the city, UNF and two national nonprofit service organizations. San Antonio-based Endeavors helps vulnerable populations such as veterans, migrants and disaster victims, while Houston-based Combined Arms helps veterans transition to civilian life.
"We have been working to implement research efforts on behalf of our military and veteran community," said Bill Spann, city director of military affairs. "The mayor has been instrumental in leading these efforts and ensuring we take a thoughtful approach to serving our veterans."
The needs are many for aging veterans
As of 2020 about 80,000 veterans live in Jacksonville, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many of them were once based at Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport.
Statewide there are about 1.5 million veterans, the third-largest population of veterans in the U.S. after California and Texas. Florida has the nation's highest number of veterans experiencing homelessness — at least 2,436 — and the leading causes are post-traumatic stress disorder, social isolation, unemployment and substance abuse, according to Endeavors.
Although the state Department of Veterans Affairs provides assistance, under 419,000 of Florida veterans actually receive "service-connected compensation or pension benefits, showing a lack of support for veterans and their families," according to Endeavors.
Ret. Marine Col. Len Loving is CEO of Five Star Veterans Center in Jacksonville, a transitional facility for low-income, displaced and homeless veterans in Northeast Florida.
"I think the survey results can be the genesis of a study to determine what assets might currently exist to meet some of the immediate needs and identify the long-term resources and funding required to match the need," Loving said.
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The greatest needs, he said, are long-term housing and care for aging veterans who need daily assistance. "Florida is way short of the long-term care facilities to meet the current need," he said.
"I seriously doubt that as the veteran population ages that we will ever completely match the need," Loving said.
Dee Quaranta, who served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, is president and CEO of Northeast Florida Women Veterans, which helps area female veterans with job placement, housing and mental health issues. She said the results of the survey will likely not be surprising.
"We already know most of those [service] gaps. Funding to fill them is the issue," she said.
Affordable housing is the critical need. Federal veterans housing assistance helps but does not cover increases in rent, she said.
"We are seeing an increase in veterans needing help with rent and mortgage," she said. "Many of these veterans were already struggling."
Another issue is veterans being unaware of the resources available to them. "We make an assumption that all veterans are on the internet and/or social media. … It's is a nice-to-have thing that many cannot afford," Quaranta said. Even if they have a television "you never see an ad on TV about services available to veterans," she said. "Why is that? Veterans need to know where to get help."
The survey "will provide data-driven insights about the current social services landscape for veterans. It will also help facilitate funding opportunities and partnerships with the city, state and other service providers," according to Endeavors.
"It takes a whole village to be able to pull this off," said Ben Miranda, Endeavors' director of business operations. "Together we are taking this approach to make sure that we identify the specific needs of veterans and families … in the Jacksonville area."
The data will also help determine the feasibility of a veterans wellness center in Northeast Florida. Endeavors operates such a center in San Antonio and is building a second facility in El Paso, Texas, using a model "that integrates mental health care, physical health care and holistic treatments and support services to improve the quality of life and decrease suicide among veterans," according to Endeavors.
"Our wellness model has been successful in saving lives and enhancing the quality of life for veterans and their families," Miranda said.
A more valid assessment
The survey is a "convenience sample" of veterans, military members, family members and service providers who respond, rather than a random sample survey with a response rate goal, according to Jeffry Will, director of the UNF Center for Community Initiatives.
"We are hoping to get a significantly large number of responses — and from all … of the Jacksonville area. At this time, we are doing pretty well with responses to the survey," he said.
The questions were initially taken from from similar assessments done by Combined Arms and Endeavors in Texas and tailored for the Jacksonville area, he said.
Will and the center are invested in what he called "a really important project for us." He has lived in Jacksonville for about 30 years, and the center he now leads has worked on local social issues such as homelessness, race relations, delinquency and health care since 1995.
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"The needs of veterans — and the lack of adequate, available services for veterans — has come up in many of those efforts, he said. "The team … is excited to provide the guidance for the needs assessment and to help the stakeholders address the issues we are finding in the project."
A final report on the survey results is expected in November, said Kelly Finn- Stormer, executive director of Combined Arms. The report will be made public "for future programming, for policy and … to help shape the future of this community," she said.
2022 NORTHEAST FLORIDA VETERAN AND FAMILY NEEDS ASSESSMENT
A survey town hall and appreciation lunch for leaders of area veteran-serving organizations will be 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at the Salem Centre, 7235 Bentley Road in Jacksonville. Pre-registration is requested. To reserve a seat, go to bit.ly/3QJWgku.
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Jacksonville, UNF, national nonprofits collaborate on veterans survey