By Gwen Moran
More than 46,000 agencies provide services to veterans. This startup’s goal is to make seamless connections.
As Veterans Day rolls around each year, calls to honor the people who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces escalate. Commercials of soldiers joyfully reuniting with their families begin to air. And let’s not forget the bargains that are available during Veterans Day sales.
But, the daily reality for many veterans is starker:
- 1.4 million veterans live in households that participate in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, according to Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank.
- A Department of Housing and Urban Development study found that on a single night in January 2018, over 37,800 veterans were experiencing homelessness.
- More than 40% of the 4.2 million veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn screen positive or reported that they were told by a health professional that they have a mental health condition.
Finding a New Civilian Life
Approximately 200,000 people transition from military service to civilian life each year, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. A 2015 report from Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans & Military Families, their top challenges in transition include navigating VA programs, benefits, and services (60%); finding a job (55%); and adjusting to civilian culture (41%).
Veterans Dan Brillman and Taylor Justice learned of these challenges firsthand and through their friends and colleagues. Justice was medically discharged in 2007 after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and serving as an infantry officer in the Army. He then joined a Philadelphia nonprofit that provided services for veterans.
Brillman joined the military as an Air Force reserve pilot in 2007 after graduating from Yale University the year before. He was deployed twice to the Middle East in 2010 and 2012. After returning to the U.S., he went to business school at Columbia University, where he met Justice in 2012. “In my second year, veterans that I served with . . . started coming to me with their both health and social service issues, thinking that I could solve them,” Brillman says.
He tried to help, he says, but the services they needed were delivered through many different institutions and agencies. According to nonprofit monitoring website GuideStar, there are more than 45,000 nonprofits that provide services to veterans in the U.S. However, there was no cohesive method for finding those organizations or the services they offer. When Brillman and Justice met, the two quickly realized that they shared an interest in working to improve this process.
One business plan and a seed round of venture funding later, the two founded software company Unite Us in 2013 to solve this problem. The platform they created provides an access point to community, healthcare, and other services for veterans, and is accessible to any military member, veteran, or military family member, Brillman says.
One Portal, Many Services
The platform is meant to create one portal through which veterans can access services — everything from housing, food, benefits, and healthcare assistance to access to education and career advancement opportunities. So far, the platform has grown to 55 networks in 30 states. Through these networks, efficiency improves, including inter-agency referrals, Justice says. Unite Us’s data found that a simple referral to services can take 17 days typically. That lag is inexcusable in this day and age, he says.
“We are trying to take the same standards we have in the retail market. If you buy something off of Amazon, and it’s not at our house in 24 or 48 hours, we’re upset,” he says. “You don’t have those same standards for basic needs, housing, food, transportation,” he says. Unite Us has been able to reduce that referral time 88% — from 17 days to less than two days, he says.
The platform is free to veterans, military members, and their families. The company makes money by providing these networks to big health systems that can then access the myriad service providers and make referrals when needed. The company’s major clients currently include Kaiser Permanente, Aetna Health/CVS, and North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services. The company raised series B funding in June and plans to be nationwide within the next five years. It was named to CB Insights’ 150 Most Innovative Digital Startups list in 2019.
The founders see Unite Us as being at the center of a greater shift in healthcare and veterans services markets. As the healthcare market moves from fee-for-service to value-based care, that fuels a big movement and a redistribution of dollars from healthcare into social services, he says. Unite Us will be the foundation, from a technology perspective, to allow for value-based payment arrangements with community-based organizations, addressing veterans’ health and service needs on a larger scale, Justice says. “We really see ourselves in that foundational element that allows us to look at Americans holistically — not just clinically,” he says.
This article was posted in Medium.com.