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Veterans programs should be overseen by one federal entity, report says

A think tank report being released Tuesday calls for the creation of a single federal entity to oversee and coordinate national veterans programs and policies that are now spread among at least six federal agencies apart from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The proposal is part of a “National Veterans Strategy” being released by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, which argues for a more holistic approach to how the financially strapped country should care for veterans after more than a decade of war.

“This report is essentially an argument for how we can provide more efficient and effective delivery of services and care to veterans” said James Schmeling, managing director of the institute. “We’re not arguing for more services, but better coordination, planning and implementation across government and better engagement with the private sector.”

The study’s authors note that in addition to VA, the departments of Defense, Labor, Education, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Small Business Administration and the Social Security Administration, all provide services for veterans.

“We do not assume the VA is the answer, nor that it is as simple as helping the VA,” Schmeling said.

Defense, Labor and VA each have employment programs for veterans, the authors noted, while Defense and the Small Business Administration both have a business ownership program.

Moreover, the study identified more than 1,300 federal and state policies, laws and executive orders affecting veterans, including 100 different policies on education, over 100 on employment, more than 100 on health, and nearly 400 on compensation.

“The argument is that it isn’t just coordination,” Schmeling said. “Rather there is a need for a holistic look across all of government, and all of society, to make broad decisions about veterans, and then to appropriately allocate authority, budget, resources, expertise, collaboration and so on accordingly.”

The report recommends that the proposed single point of authority be given broad power over veteran programs and policies, including budgetary and directive control. But beyond that, there are few specific recommendations, including whether it would be an independent body or part of an agency, or whether it would be based at VA, the White House or elsewhere.

“We purposefully do not specify who this point of authority ought to be . . . or where it should be based,” Schmeling said.

Instead, the institute, which was established at Syracuse in 2011 with a $7.5 million grant from JPMorgan Chase, proposes that the Obama administration appoint a presidential commission to make recommendations for a “whole-of-government” approach to veteran programs and initiatives.

“This effort could not be more timely,” Schmeling said. “The U.S. fiscal climate is forcing increasingly difficult choices on federal programs across the board.”

The report also proposes that the government establish a periodic review of veterans policies and programs across the federal government, similar to the Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review.

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