With more than 280,000 veterans, Los Angeles County has the largest population of veterans of all the counties in the United States. Veteran serving organizations (VSOs) have long spoken about the need to reach veterans in need of services before they get to a place of despair. SCG’s Veteran Funders Group had long focused on how it could help support greater coordination between VSOs and other safety net providers and encourage more significant investment in LA’s veteran population. In December 2017, Southern California Grantmakers convened LA’s leading VSOs, local government agencies focused on veterans, and philanthropy to discuss how stakeholders could collectively support veterans’ support in the city. At this meeting, Dr. Jon Sherin from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (DMH) proposed creating a veteran-to-veteran peer navigation system to help connect veterans to the services they needed.
In February 2018, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors passed a motion to study what it might take to establish a countywide peer network for veterans. By May, the LA County Health Agency had proposed a plan and appointed the DMH as the lead agency for this initiative and SCG as a member of the ad hoc Steering Committee. The Veteran Peer Access Network (VPAN)design process began in August and included input from the ad hoc steering committee and SCG’s Veteran Funders Group. Over the next several months, the blueprint and implementation plan for VPAN— the country’s first publicly funded support network for veterans and their families— were created.
Given the SCG’s Veterans Funders Group’s expertise in grantmaking and veterans issues, LA County decided that the SCG could play a pivotal role in implementing the initiative. On November 19, 2019, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion authorizing the Director of DMH to execute an agreement with SCG to “create a public-private partnership focused on implementing services to veterans using a peer-to-peer model, with a three fiscal year team.” In this agreement, SCG would serve as the fiscal intermediary for VPAN and help foster veteran-focused partnerships and new funding opportunities for regional philanthropy.
This year, SCG began searching for a VPAN project manager to represent the veteran communities it would be serving. In September, SCG hired Cristina Garcia, a US Army Veteran with 24 years of service, to the VPAN role. Cristina previously served as a Diversity and Immigration Liaison at the California National Guard. There she assisted over 60 service members and their families in obtaining citizenship, work permits, and social security cards. Cristina also worked at US Vets, a national nonprofit organization that provides veterans with comprehensive services, including those at risk and unhoused. Cristina’s extensive experience with veteran communities and commitment to equity, racial justice, and diversity made her the ideal candidate to lead SCG’s VPAN work. Cristina will partner with Nathan Graeser, MD, LCSW, DSW, who has been involved in the initiative since the beginning and currently serves as a consultant to both the SCG Veterans Funders Group and VPAN to ensure that the implementation is successful.
SCG envisions a future where every Los Angeles County service member, veteran, and family members can easily find and access the wealth of support services available to them through the VPAN, enabling them to live and thrive in the community. To realize this vision, SCG hopes to establish VPAN as the coordinating authority for veteran support in Los Angeles County. To enact this vision, SCG will create the infrastructure needed to improve veterans’ long-term access to housing, wrap-around services — including health, mental health, substance abuse support, education, training, employment, benefits, and legal. As of November 2020, SCG selected five community-based organizations (CBO) across five Supervisorial Districts to led the efforts to provide services to veterans:
As of December 2020, SCG and its CBO partners are finalizing the search for motivated individuals interested in making a difference in Los Angeles County’s veteran communities. New staff training will begin in December, and the VPAN network will start providing services to veteran communities in January 2021.
If you have any questions regarding VPAN, please get in touch with Cristina at firstname.lastname@example.org.