TULSA—It started with a feeling, a sense that veterans and their families in the Tulsa region could be better served if only there was a way those agencies who tried to help them could somehow know what the other agencies were doing and, more importantly, could do.
Veterans were returning from fighting for our county in Iraq or Afghanistan to find themselves fighting a war on their home turf: fighting for employment, fighting for healthcare, for food, and even for a place to call home. Out of this feeling that they could be better served—and this stark reality—came Oklahoma Veteran Connections (OKVC).
Fast forward one year.
An investment by the Community Service Council, utilizing cutting-edge technology from Unite Us, has made the concept of better, more cohesive care for our veterans a reality. OKVC is a 360-degree referral network that was launched Oct. 25, 2017, with 12 key medical and social service agencies already providing consistent support for veterans. Over the past year, that network has grown to 30 agencies and between them has handled over 1,100 referrals for more than 600 veterans and their families.
“Oklahoma Veteran Connections has been very successful this past year, but we are just beginning to see the benefits multiply and agencies become more comfortable with this tool and concept,” said Rachel Runfola, veterans division director, Community Service Council. “As we look to the future, the promise is to expand throughout the state and, more importantly, to our rural communities where resources are scarce and difficult to connect.”
OKVC is working to transform the way a community collaborates and works collectively to help our veterans find the assistance they need and deserve quickly, accurately and with outcome-based tracking.
“Our main goal behind the creation of Oklahoma Veteran Connections was to unite veteran service providers across the region to improve outcomes for Oklahoma’s veterans and their families,” said Vanessa Finley, Interim CEO, Community Service Council. “Too often, veterans were not able to access the scope of services they needed—and qualified for—in our community. We knew this had to change.”
Community Service Council also manages 211 Eastern Oklahoma, the social service connection hub, which enabled us to leverage it for OKVC because of the many critical needs the network already addresses.
The OKVC Connection Center was able to be housed with-in the existing 211-system even though it utilizes a unique software developed for and by veterans called Unite Us. The cutting-edge software, from New York-based technology firm Unite Us, helped build the infrastructure to allow the sharing of data and referrals so providers could work as a united front to ensure veterans get the help they’re seeking. Unite Us also supports another large veteran network called AmericaServes, which is currently operating in 18 communities across the United States. Community Service Council is now part of the AmericaServes network to learn and integrate best practices from across the country.
“We are proud and excited about what OKVC has been able to accomplish through the exciting community collaboration for which Tulsa is known,” said Pete Luitwieler, program manager, Oklahoma Veteran Connections. “We are looking forward to Year Two. Our Oklahoma veterans will be the winners and that is what drives my passion—a Vietnam veteran now helping vets of all ages!”
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