Bilmes, Students Help Launch New Veterans Service Center

July 18, 2013
by Matt Cadwallader, Kennedy School Communications

For veterans returning from combat, the transition back to civilian life can be overwhelming. Although resources are available to help, they are spread across an array of federal, state and non-profit services. Navigating that maze is a daunting task.
But for residents of Newton, Massachusetts, accessing those resources has become considerably easier with the founding of the Newton Veterans Service Center, a one-stop-shop where veterans can socialize, share their experiences and easily access a wide range of services.
The center is the product of a research collaboration between the city of Newton and a team of Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) students and faculty.
Shortly after his election as Mayor of Newton, Iraq war veteran Setti Warren reached out to HKS Senior Lecturer Linda Bilmes to explore ideas on how his community could support returning soldiers.
“She decided we should get some Kennedy School students to do some research on what was happening when veterans come home and how they get connected to services,” said Warren.
Bilmes brought the challenge to her experiential learning class, Advanced Applied Management, Operations and Budgeting. Immediately four students, three of whom were veterans themselves, volunteered to take it on.
They began by tracking every dollar of veteran assistance funds coming from federal and state programs.
“We had these massive flowcharts looking at 50 or 60 different federal programs for veterans,” said Bilmes. “What we found was that the vast majority of the money went to those who had a specific problem, whether it was homelessness, substance abuse or PTSD, but there was very little money for transition assistance.”
Bilmes compared the situation to the healthcare system where there’s not much money for prevention, but “there is a lot of money for when you get sick.”
“We wanted to capture those veterans before they hit rock bottom,” said Warren.
After presenting their findings to the city, the HKS group recommended the creation of a single center at the municipal level where veterans could get a comprehensive look at all the resources available to them. It would be the first such center in the United States.
“We’re hoping this will be a little bit more informal,” said Joseph Sturniolo, a member of American Legion Post 440 in which the center is housed, “they can socialize, they can relax, they can have fun, plus get the services that they need or they want.”
Mayor Warren cited the students’ prior military experience as especially helpful in building a case for the center’s creation.
“Having veterans that were actually doing the research and who understood what it is like to re-enter the community was incredibly valuable because they knew what to look for in their research,” he said.
“It’s a beautiful partnership,” said Bilmes, “between the framework the students created and the study that they did of the funding flows and a go-getting mayor like Mayor Warren and his staff that has brought this idea to fruition.”

Linda Bilmes

Linda Bilmes, Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy

“It’s a beautiful partnership,” said Bilmes, “between the framework the students created and the study that they did of the funding flows and a go-getting mayor like Mayor Warren and his staff that has brought this idea to fruition.”

 


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