Veterans survey identifies critical needs, but it didn't reach everyone
A critical needs assessment for First Coast veterans has released its findings, but the data was limited by a lack of response from veterans in underserved communities.
The anonymous 2022 Northeast Florida Veterans and Family Needs Assessment, now available online, targeted veterans, active service members, family members or caregivers of veterans from Aug. 10 through Sep. 25.
Dental and other health care needs were cited as the biggest concerns, along with assistance with Veterans Affairs claims.
Jacksonville is home to around 80,000 veterans, based on census data. Between Duval, Clay, St. Johns, Nassau, and Baker counties, the survey, run as a cooperative between the city, the University of North Florida, Combined Arms and Endeavors, reached 1,174 of them.
Also contacted were 34 active service members, 235 family members or caregivers of service members and veterans, and 21 employees of military service organizations.
Jeffry Will, director for UNF's Center for Community Initiatives and one of the assessment's main collaborators, pointed out that the online survey had limited reach in traditionally underserved Jacksonville communities, meaning the assessment had a proportional undercount.
"There's not a lot in the Northwest quadrant," Will said. "Most of the respondents were concentrated in the West and Southside of Jacksonville, and some pockets around Middleburg, Orange Park, the airport. That Northwest quadrant just was not as represented as we had hoped."
The average respondent to the survey was older than 60, white and married. A third reported being retired while another third reported working full time.
Less than 7% of veterans who completed a survey were younger than 40, leading to generational gaps in identifying critical needs, but the survey gave researchers a clear picture of the main issues facing older veterans.
Over half said they needed support accessing dental care as the most cited service need.
The second, third and fourth most-cited need, at around 45% each, was access to vision care, assistance with VA claims and access to general medical care, in that order.
Hearing care was fifth at 43%.
Veteran service organizations, surveyed separately from veterans and their caregivers, identified housing and homelessness as having the largest gaps in service for veterans of all ages, followed by health care.
Endeavors, the primary organization behind the survey, is a Texas-based veterans group looking to replicate a $20 million San Antonio wellness center for veterans in Jacksonville, potentially with government grants. The group recently began construction on a new facility in El Paso and said in August that it could begin construction on a local facility— based on the results of the critical needs assessment— within a year.
Endeavors touted the work of its current facility before releasing the results of the survey Tuesday. Dr. Jill Palmer is the organization's chief of behavioral health.
"Suicide is the largest impact to our nation's veterans," she said. "In fact, if you're transitioning out of the military, the deadliest days are the first 120, so we're also partnering with groups to really look at transition to civilian life."
The conductors of the survey say they're looking to build on the data and pursue further outreach to connect to critical groups like young veterans and service members preparing to leave the military.