RGK Center Student Research Informs $20 Million State Initiative; Wins NASPAA and ASPA Awards
LBJ School representatives and members of the research team accept the James W. McGrew Research Award. L-R: Lauren Marcotte, Prof. Angela Evans, Dr. David J. Eaton, Lauren Seymour, Alexander Leist, and CenTex ASPA President Jason Alexander.
The yearlong policy research project is a cornerstone of LBJ School graduate education. Small teams of students guided by faculty instructors are matched with external clients to tackle public issues and deliver solutions that have real-world implications. One such team, led by David J. Eaton, Ph.D., is seeing its findings inform not only the priorities set by the nonprofit client that commissioned the report, but also a $20 million statewide initiative to improve veterans’ mental health services in Texas. Dr. Eaton and his students have received two awards as a result of their work: the NASPAA/ASPA Distinguished Research Award and the James W. McGrew Research Award from ASPA's Central Texas Chapter.
Dr. Eaton and the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service were approached by Curtis W. Meadows, Jr., Director Emeritus of the Meadows Foundation, in May 2013 to assist the Meadows Foundation staff in identifying priorities for improved mental health services for veterans.
The Meadows Foundation was working to create the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) and sought to improve existing resources available to Texas veterans with mental health needs. Six LBJ School students registered for the project: Rebecca Hornbach, Lauren Marcotte, Lindsay Read, Aileen Ford, Alexander Leist, and Lauren Seymour. To set service priorities, the MMHPI first needed an assessment of the landscape. The students drew from government reports, scholarly literature, agency websites, and face-to-face interviews conducted with counselors, Veteran Service Officers, nonprofit providers, state officials, and veterans themselves to identify current practices, challenges, and opportunities within and across each group of service providers. The project report, An Assessment of Mental Health Services for Veterans in the State of Texas, offered five recommendations toward the goal of making veterans’ mental health care in Texas comprehensive, inclusive, effective, and efficient.
Veterans Mental Health Policy Research Project Deliverables
Documentaries: The students produced two documentaries, one on the current mental health services available
to Texas veterans and a second on the students’ own reflections and experiences of carrying out the research.
For example, “The best practices for serving veterans mental health are the one-stop shops that include mental health services, physical therapy, as well as job placement and preventing homelessness,” said Alexander Leist. “It would be helpful if some of the state money could be funneled towards the community,” said Lauren Seymour. “From our research, it seems that the nonprofits helping to fill the gaps that the VA or the state can’t cover are very effective for helping veterans with mental health issues.”
Student researchers consult with members of the Meadows Foundation and MMHPI. Clockwise from left: Lauren Seymour, Lindsay Read, Rebecca Hornbach, Meadows Foundation Vice President of Grants Bruce Esterline, RGK Center Interim Director Sarah Jane Rehnborg, Aileen Ford, MMHPI Psychiatrist Christie Cline, and Meadows Foundation Director Emeritus Curtis W. Meadows, Jr.
In addition to using the report to inform internal strategy, the MMHPI presented the report findings during a briefing to the Texas Legislature in March 2015. One outcome of that briefing was the Texas Veterans Initiative, which began as a $1 million investment from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, to match local and private funds to expand and evaluate community-based mental health programs serving veterans and their families. Texas Senate Bill 55, signed by the governor last Thursday, adds an additional $20 million to the initiative.
“It’s great to see the impact of the students’ work. It’s the most rewarding kind of outcome, when the nonprofit client has a clear sense of what they need to know and the students provide a high-quality deliverable,” said Moira Porter, an RGK Center Program Coordinator who facilitated introductions to nonprofits specializing in service to veterans and their families.
In reflecting upon her experience with the project, Aileen Ford said, “my greatest takeaway is definitely the passion that a lot of people bring to this issue and just how much the State of Texas and key stakeholders are doing to increase access to services and to improve their quality.”