Our Work in Action

Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.
– Joel A. Barker

Creating a Culture of Equity for Veterans' Mental Health

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: 09/2013 to 10/2014
In September 2013, CommonHealth ACTION received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to conduct a one-year environmental scan to understand veterans’ historical context, key policies and trends related to mental health, and elevate opportunities to improve equitable mental health outcomes for our veterans.  CommonHealth ACTION conducted a literature review and media scan, key informant interviews and a convening of advisors, and collected original data through focus groups and a national survey, in partnership with The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.  This study identified challenges and opportunities facing all veterans, with a particular focus on 12 veteran subpopulations who, due to their characteristics or circumstances, experience vulnerability when they interact with systems and institutions.

In the report, two sets of veteran subpopulations are explored: veterans belonging to groups who have been historically oppressed—including veterans of color as well as women, immigrants, and people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, or queer—as well as veterans with certain post-military experiences, by choice or by circumstance, who encounter challenges as they interact with systems and institutions designed to support them. These subpopulations include veterans who are disabled, elderly, homeless, incarcerated, other-than-honorably discharged, rural dwellers, students, and the unemployed. CommonHealth ACTION defines vulnerability as the degree to which people are susceptible to experiencing oppression or harm during or as a result of their interactions with or feedback from systems, institutions, or entities that affect their health or well-being.

In the full report, CommonHealth ACTION identifies opportunities for each of the subpopulations to achieve greater equity through recommending policies and programs, strategies to implement policies and programs, and research questions to spark further discussion. In addition, CommonHealth ACTION lays the foundation for a veteran-led, comprehensive, inclusive, and equitable national narrative that supports a cultural shift in our understanding of veterans’ mental health.  Furthermore, CommonHealth ACTION recommends the following calls to action:

  • We need a national dialogue that engages veterans and their families as well as military leaders, service organizations, policymakers, and others in order to create the culture change needed to achieve greater equity for veterans’ mental health.
  • We encourage military and veteran leaders to invest in inclusive, veteran-informed policy and culture changes to address mental health supports and organizational structures at the start of military service rather than shortly before separation.
  • We need to invest in more research and assessment to understand specific needs and experiences of diverse veteran subpopulations.


Special Note: The cover of our publications features photos from the Veterans Portrait Project, an online photo gallery that highlights the many faces of veterans from all branches and eras of the U.S. Armed Forces. We would like to recognize and thank its founder and former Air Force Photographer, Stacy L. Pearsall, as well as all the featured veterans, for allowing us to use their photos. For more information about the Veterans Portrait Project, visit http://www.veteransportraitproject.com/.

To access the reports generated from this project, please click on the links below. For more information or questions about the reports, email us at healthyveterans@commonhealthaction.org.

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