The Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS) did not ensure that its Women Veterans’ Network (WVN) achieved its intended purpose of identifying women veterans and informing them about their potential eligibility for benefits. We identified 16 tasks that DVS had designated for the WVN director to perform to achieve its objectives. Key tasks included conducting outreach, collecting and maintaining complete and current information on women veterans in Massachusetts, and storing this information in a database. DVS uses the information in the database to communicate information to women veterans about topics like veteran benefits, programs, events, and support services available through other state agencies and/or the federal government. However, during our audit period, DVS could only provide limited documentation—in some cases, no documentation—to substantiate the extent to which the WVN director performed these 16 tasks. As a result, there is a higher-than-acceptable risk that WVN did not complete many of DVS’s tasks, including outreach to women veterans.
For example, the WVN director stated that she had met with representatives from several other state agencies, including the Office of the State Treasurer and Receiver General, Department of Transitional Assistance, and Department of Mental Health, to discuss women veterans’ issues. However, she could not provide us with any documentation of these meetings. She also stated that during our audit period she had responded to inquiries from women veterans and provided them with general information and referrals to support services. However, there was no documentation to substantiate this assertion. Finally, the director stated that during our audit period she had met with DVS’s director of legislative and media relations to assess the effectiveness of DVS’s outreach efforts completed via the WVN website. However, we found that DVS did not collect any information that it could use to perform such an assessment.
If WVN does not complete DVS’s tasks, including outreach to women veterans, women veterans may not be aware of all of the resources available to them through DVS. For example, during our audit, DVS gave us a list of 1,545 records of women veterans it had identified as the total population of women veterans in WVN’s database. However, this number represents only about 6% of the approximately 25,000 women veterans living in Massachusetts as of September 30, 2020 according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA’s) National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics.
The WVN director’s job description lists 16 tasks that they should perform to support women veterans in Massachusetts:
Oversee and maintain a database of over 14,500 women veterans in the Commonwealth.
Organize and lead regular meetings of the Women Veterans’ Network Steering Committee [a committee of community leaders and women veterans that supports and guides WVN’s mission].
Conduct aggressive research via informational fairs and workshops, public events and other mediums to expand membership in the Women Veterans’ network.
Collaborate within DVS with other agencies at state, federal and non-profit provider levels that serve women veterans to identify resources, improvements to programs and services to women veterans, particularly in terms of healthcare, counseling, employment, education and housing.
Plan and coordinate the annual Woman Veterans’ Appreciation Day at the State House each November.
Coordinate nominations for the Deborah Sampson award (Outstanding Woman Veteran of the Year).
Respond to direct inquiries from women veterans to provide information, referrals and establish linkages with supportive services.
Publish both state wide print and online versions of the woman veterans’ newsletter.
Provide informational updates via email, website, and social network sites on services, programs, and events between newsletters. . . .
Prepare reports as required and requested by the Department of Veterans’ Services, Executive Office of Health [and] Human Services, and the Legislature.
Maintain speaker’s bureau of Massachusetts Women Veterans to enhance awareness of women veterans’ contributions to the Commonwealth and to the Nation.
Maintain library of historical resources on women veterans.
Continue education and awareness of current and emerging issues that impact woman veterans. . . .
Meet with woman [veterans] in the community to assist with services and benefits.
Receives and answers questions and inquiries from women veterans currently deployed overseas via social networks requesting benefit information and care packages. . . .
Meets with DVS Director of Legislation and Media Relations to ensure outreach efforts via website are effective and productive.
Reasons for Issue
DVS has not established policies and procedures, including a monitoring component, for WVN’s operations to ensure that all required activities are conducted and properly documented.
DVS should establish policies and procedures, including a monitoring component, for WVN’s operations to ensure that all required activities are conducted and properly documented.
- DVS has established policies and procedures for the Women Veterans’ Network (WVN) Steering Committee.
a. The WVN Steering Committee is comprised of women veterans from the [United States Veterans Administration, or VA], the military, the [Vet] Centers, and Veterans Services Organizations from around the Commonwealth.
b. When joining the Steering Committee, members sign an agreement to complete the volunteer roles they are assuming. This includes: Each member of the steering committee is required to attend monthly meetings, and to participate in the WVN’s two signature annual events: the Women Veterans’ Conference, and the Deborah Sampson Award recognition.
c. The WVN Steering Committee meets monthly. During the audit period, most Steering Committee meetings were held virtually due to distance and [2019 coronavirus] precautions. As of the Fall of 2021, the Steering Committee has resumed in person meetings, and meetings have taken place at the following locations: Winthrop Town Hall, VA Bedford, VA Boston, Clear Path for Veterans New England, DVS Offices at 600 Washington Street.
- DVS is in process of establishing standard policies and procedures for the outreach and engagement work done by Women Veterans’ Network employees. This includes:
a. Standard operating procedures regarding planning the Women Veterans’ Conference.
b. Procedures regarding the nominations and awards process for the Deborah Sampson Award.
c. Procedures regarding providing support to individual women veterans.
d. Procedures planning outreach activities in the community.
- DVS is nearing the final stages of re-platforming all its benefits processing systems and databases to a newer system called OnBase. The Women Veterans’ Database is one of these sets of data that is currently in the process of migration with additional functionality built out. This process is aimed for completion Fall 2022.
a. DVS’ [information technology] partners have identified service data for nearly 20,000 women Veterans in the Commonwealth that is being re-verified for currency and validity before being migrated to OnBase.
b. DVS also periodically receives discharge information for veterans returning to the Commonwealth. This data is reviewed and analyzed for currency and validity through Operations and Data Analysis teams, and Women Veterans receive a direct mailing brochure on DVS programs including the Women Veterans Network. Each individual municipality also receives information on veterans returning to their municipality and reach out to them individually.
c. DVS has worked with its database administrator to build functionality for the newest iteration of the database structure for the Women Veterans’ Network. . . . This additional functionality will include:
i. Allowing referrals from [veterans’ services officers, or VSOs, and the Statewide Advocacy for Veteran Empowerment Program, or SAVE] to the Women Veterans’ Network for follow up
ii. Logging and tracking outreach activities
iii. Logging and tracking support provided to individual women veterans
iv. Tracking subject matter interests of individual women veterans for outreach and activities
v. Integration with e-newsletter distribution
- During the audit period, DVS participated in outreach and engagement activities to recognize, honor, and outreach to women veterans:
i. WVN hosted events:
- November 8, 2019: WVN hosted 2019 Women Veterans’ Appreciation Day and presented the Deborah Sampson Award.
- October 3, 2020: Virtual Women Veterans’ Conference, special topics on employment and mental health, benefits
- 2020: Two (2) employment workshops cohosted by WVN and the [Executive Office of Health and Human Services] Diversity Office to raise awareness of hiring Veterans.
- June 22, 2020: Managing Stress and Trauma During the Pandemic: A Forum for Women Veterans, in partnership with Brookfield Institute
- March 23, 2021: Virtual Forum: Parenting After Your Service
- February 24, 2021: Virtual Forum: Heart Health for Women Veterans
- June 11, 2021: Women [Veterans’] Appreciation Day & Deborah Sampson recognition event in Sharon
ii. Community-hosted outreach events attended
- July 19, 2019: WVN attended Run to Home Base
- September 21, 2019: WVN Attended Veterans/Military Expo at VA Brockton
- September 29, 2019: WVN attended Vettes to Vets Day
- February 16, 2020: Outreach at Massachusetts All Nurses Medical Post 296 to celebrate Black History month.
- The [WVN] Director participated in the following Stand Downs [annual veteran service events] during the period:
a. Worcester Stand Down on August 20, 2020
b. Worcester Stand Down on June 18, 2021
b. The WVN provides informational updates, connections to programs, and updates on events and services through digital communication channels including its website, social media, and via e-newsletter.
i. Sent 14 e-newsletters during the audit period
- Overall, 20,189 emails were sent to e-newsletter subscribers, resulting in 3,800 email opens and 431 clicks on links and resources for women veterans
ii. In April, 2021, the WVN went live with its new website, www.womenveteransnetworkmass.org, which has information, connections to the network, and information on events for women veterans. Between April and June 2021, the site received 1250 visits.
iii. Social media metrics
- Facebook: During the audit period of July 1, 2019–June 30, 2021, the WVN had 3,898 followers and made 62 posts.
- Twitter: During the audit period, WVN tweeted 225 times, earning 30,400 impressions, an average of 40 impressions per day, 30 link clicks, 40 retweets, 66 likes, and 6 replies.
c. The Network Director has provided direct assistance to women veterans in need. While below are two examples, the re-platformed database will capture units of direct assistance such as this. As an example:
i. In November of 2020 the Network Director assisted the mother of a service member who died on active duty. We learned that she was an Air Force Veteran and the Network Director connected her to her VSO and other services.
ii. The Network Director has collaborated with the Women’s Lunch Place and New England Center to assist a homeless woman veteran with housing.
d. The WVN also collaborates with SAVE (Statewide Advocacy for Veteran Empowerment) Team to crosswalk on issues.
i. The SAVE team takes referrals for veterans experiencing difficulties accessing support and services. DVS has added one (1) full time employee who supports SAVE and the WVN (hired in May 2022), which expands the reach of the Network, and the supports DVS can provide for women veterans in the Commonwealth.
e. The WVN maintains a compendium of women veteran speakers and resources around the Commonwealth.
i. The WVN locates women veteran speakers for engagements across the Commonwealth. While the Speaker’s Bureau may not be in the same format, the Network has been able to locate speakers when others request a woman veteran speaker through its wide array of women veterans across the Commonwealth. We can respond based on women’s service era, branch, or geographic location. Additionally, with the significant additional female VSOs this provides more capacity and opportunity for women veteran speakers. Going forward, we will expand this bureau through social media recruitment.
ii. For example, the WVN has also begun a listing of Women’s Memorials around the Commonwealth. The intent is to provide a historic trail so that women veterans may visit these memorials when they are out in the Commonwealth. Once this is complete, this will be shared online as a resource for Women Veterans to raise the awareness of women veterans’ service and sacrifice.
Contrary to what DVS asserts in its response, it has not established policies and procedures for WVN's operations and steering committee. DVS may request that steering committee members sign an agreement that outlines the requirements of each volunteer role and that they participate in meetings and attend certain other events. However, these written agreements do not constitute policies and procedures that would establish how each member's compliance with the terms and conditions of their agreement would be evaluated, monitored, and documented. As noted above, the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) identified 16 tasks that DVS had designated for the WVN director to perform to achieve WVN's program objectives; none of these were recorded in formal policies and procedures.
In its response, DVS delineates specific activities that WVN may have conducted during our audit period. However, as noted above, when we requested it during the audit, DVS could not provide adequate documentation to support the completion of most of these activities. For example, in its response, DVS indicates that the WVN steering committee met monthly and that these meetings were virtual during the audit period because of 2019 coronavirus pandemic precautions. However, when we requested supporting documentation for these meetings during the audit, the WVN director told us that she did not maintain agendas or meeting minutes and that there was no formal structure to these meetings.
We acknowledge that WVN uses its website, social media, and its newsletter to provide information on benefits, programs, resources, and events to women veterans. However, as noted above, as of the time of our fieldwork, there were only 1,545 records of women veterans in WVN’s database. This number represented only about 6% of the approximately 25,000 women veterans living in Massachusetts as of September 30, 2020. In OSA’s opinion, DVS needs to improve its outreach efforts to women veterans. We believe that developing written policies and procedures that establish how WVN outreach activities should be conducted, monitored, documented, and evaluated should improve the effectiveness of these efforts.
According to its response, DVS will establish policies and procedures for WVN’s outreach and engagement activities. In addition, DVS will implement improvements to WVN’s database, which will allow DVS to document and track WVN outreach activities and support provided to women veterans. We believe that these measures are prudent, but we again urge DVS to establish policies and procedures, including a monitoring component, for all WVN operations to ensure that all required activities are conducted and properly documented.
|Date published:||September 27, 2022|