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In this report, Drs. Lael Keiser and Susan Miller examine the critical role of non-governmental outreach organizations in assisting government agencies to determine benefit eligibility of citizens applying for services. Many non-profits and other organizations help low-income applicants apply for Social Security, Medicaid, and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps).
Some outreach organizations help veterans navigate the complexity of the veterans disability benefits program. These organizations include the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, as well as state government-run veterans agencies. Drs. Keiser and Miller interviewed dozens of managers from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and outreach organizations about their interactions in helping veterans. They found “there is indeed effective collaboration” and that these organizations serve a key role for veterans in processing their claims. These organizations also help lighten the workload of VA benefit examiners by ensuring the paperwork is in order in advance, as well as serving as a communications conduit.
Drs. Keiser and Miller found variations in the effectiveness of the relationships between VA and outreach organization staffs and identified best practices for increasing effectiveness. These lessons can be applied to other agencies that interactive frequently with outreach organizations that assist citizens in navigating the complexity of applying for various government benefit programs.