Serving Those Who Have Served: Introducing the Santa Barbara County Veterans Assessment Project

“I pledge allegiance, to the Flag, of the United States of America,” vowed over 70 veterans, policymakers, service providers and community members at the Santa Barbara Foundation’s convening of Santa Barbara County Stakeholders in Veterans’ Wellness, “Serving Those Who Have Served,” on March 20 in Solvang. The purpose of the convening was to introduce the Santa Barbara County Veterans Assessment Project to important stakeholders and ask for feedback, input and suggestions on the process and methodology to better serve the needs of veterans in Santa Barbara County.

“The Santa Barbara Foundation recognizes that there is much to be done in this space in our community, which is why we are facilitating this assessment project,” said Ron Gallo, President & CEO of the Santa Barbara Foundation. “We want to be a part of this process, but we are here to learn and want any role that we play to come to us organically through your expertise and feedback.”

Dressed in patriotic red, white and blue, Kathy Simas, Santa Barbara Foundation North County Director, discussed the origins of the project. Three years ago, Simas was tasked with doing research for a donor who wanted to support veterans. She conducted a community scan and found that there are some best practices among service providers but also gaps in veterans’ services in Santa Barbara County. She found that many veterans do not understand how to access the services available to them and that many service providers are extremely dedicated, but often operate in silos, unaware of others who are involved in similar efforts. Simas believes that, with engagement and participation from the community, the foundation can help start the process to address these issues and strengthen veterans services in the county.

“The foundation’s role in the community is to lead, seed and convene,” said Simas. “We are here today to start the conversation about how we can all work together to create a better and more welcoming community for veterans and their families.”

Simas introduced Nancy Berglass, Principal of Berglass Investment Consulting and project lead, to discuss the objectives, methodology and impact of the proposed assessment. Due to her roles as Senior Fellow at Washington’s Center for a New American Security, director of the Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund, and advisor to 17th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ADM Michael Mullen, Berglass has a rich background working with veterans services and presented case studies about how similar research and assessment projects have worked in other cities and counties. She also stressed, however, that each community is different and that it is up to the community to identify what works best for their members.

“This is not about us telling you what you should do, but it is about us helping you do research and understanding what is important to Santa Barbara County community members so that you can create your own roadmap to improving veterans services,” said Berglass. “Successful veteran reintegration models adhere to best practices, are culturally competent and community based.”

Berglass concluded her presentation with a question and answer session that included both asking the audience questions to spur an informative dialogue and answering questions about how to best move forward with this assessment. Some of the topics that stakeholders broached included, coordinating with the “Stand Down,” creating a website for information sharing, understanding the importance of spouses and families when addressing veterans’ issues, unifying the county, and identifying reasons that veterans do not use benefits already available, among others. To learn more about the Santa Barbara County Veterans Assessment Project or to ask questions and share your opinions, please contact Kathy Simas at 805-880-9395 or ksimas@sbfoundation.org.

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