Sometimes, veterans’ mobility makes it hard for agencies to find them

Minority and low-income military veterans tend to move more than other veterans. Often they cross state lines, which makes it hard for state governments to iden...

Minority and low-income military veterans tend to move more than other veterans. Often they cross state lines, which makes it hard for state governments to identify them. That’s according to research by Transunion, the credit-and-identity services firm. For the implications of veteran migrations,  Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with Transunion’s Director of Research and Consulting, Greg Schlichter.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin Tell us about this research. What were you trying to discover and what did you find out here?

Greg Schlichter Well, you know, it’s no surprise, I think, to your listeners that government agencies have been under pressure to shift to a customer first mindset and rework customer experiences to improve accessibility, efficiency, security. And one of the agencies that is making large strides in that area is the VA. That’s the federal VA. Now their mandate to improve customer experiences is trickling down to state veterans departments. And we were wondering, what are some of those big pain points when it comes to the customer experiences that are overseen by state veterans departments? And while we were doing our research, what we came to realize was what we think one of the biggest problems facing states veterans departments is, is that they just don’t know much about their veteran population. They don’t know how many veterans are in their states. They don’t know how to contact them. They don’t know quite what services they might be more or less interested in. And so what we did to suss out that hypothesis is do an analysis of what we call veteran mobility. We were really just looking at veteran relocation across state lines to understand how often veterans are moving into new jurisdictions and how that compares to non-veterans.

Tom Temin And what was your methodology for determining that?

Greg Schlichter What we really did was analyze the information we have available to us as a credit bureau. So people’s credit files, you can see change of address as well as some alternative data assets. So think, you know, utility bills, sometimes payday loans, car registrations, all that fun stuff to just get a sense of how often are people moving across state lines. And we looked over the past five years. So we have a little bit of pre-pandemic, pandemic and post-pandemic in there.

Tom Temin And you were also able to determine some of the characteristics of those that are the most mobile or the most migratory, let’s say, in terms of their income and ethnicity.

Greg Schlichter Let’s unpack that for a second here. Our headline finding is that veterans moved across state lines at more than double the rate of non-veterans over the past five years. So if you look at the past three years, let’s say the veteran population, our sample, about 6% of them moved. And that compares to about two and a half percent of non-veterans. So a little more than double the rate. That disparity was particularly pronounced within certain demographic groups, notably racial and ethnic minorities, low income veterans and non home owning veterans who again were close to three times more likely than their non-veteran peers to have moved across state lines.

Tom Temin And we’re talking about people that have moved or relocated while they are veterans. That is to say they didn’t leave their military location and move across state lines.

Greg Schlichter Correct. Correct. So what we did was look for people who were separated from service. And when we’re talking about moves to different locations, we excluded anything that was what we call military affiliated address. So like a zip code, that’s obviously a base or, you know, right around a base or you’re going to Guam or something like that.

Tom Temin And how much of this is simply older veterans retiring to Florida or Arizona or wherever, if you know the place they want to go?

Greg Schlichter So that is certainly part of it from what we’re seeing. We did not specifically analyze point to point moves. So not looking at who’s moving from point A and going to point B, but what we found of particular note would be two things. One is that across all age bands, we looked at veterans 30 to 70, age 30 to 70. Across all of those ages, the veteran group was more likely to move than the non-veteran group. So your 65 to 70 year old veterans were more likely to move than 65 to 70 year old non-veterans. The second thing that we noticed as well is that predominantly the movers we’re seeing are younger, younger veterans. I think these are people who are recently separating from service and are trying to figure out where do they want to start a career, where do they want to put down roots, where do they want to begin to build their lives?

Tom Temin We’re speaking with Greg Schlichter. He’s director of research and consulting at TransUnion. And so what is the implication of this? For example, is there a revenue sharing or revenue transfer from the federal government to state veterans agencies such that if you don’t get a good head count? You don’t get a good accurate amount of money from the federal government.

Greg Schlichter Absolutely. States are allocated federal funds proportionate to their veteran population and those assist with service delivery. With just program, administration, things like that. I think another benefit to having an accurate head count and accurate contact information, not just a number, but how to reach these people. That helps veterans departments also be better community partners. That type of intelligence can enable them to assist nonprofits, universities, local businesses with their own veteran engagement efforts.

Tom Temin And what about the VA itself, the federal VA? Is there any practical effect of this migratory pattern on it?

Greg Schlichter I think so. The VA or even the DoD is the agency of record when it comes to not only people service records, but also potentially their current contact information. And if you think about that 6% statistic I referenced earlier, 6% of the veterans we saw had moved state lines over the past three years. If we spin it a different way, means that the veteran administrations or the DoD contact information for 6% of their veterans is potentially out of date. And that just creates a whole host of problems. When you think about federal efforts to engage constituents and improve experiences and all that sort of stuff.

Tom Temin All right. So how do you find the veterans? I guess I’m leading to the fact that Trans Union happens to have a product in this area.

Greg Schlichter We do. We have a proprietary method for finding veterans that I don’t think I can go to in the weeds on. But I can tell you as a proof point, we are currently working with three states on this product that we call Veteran Connect. And in those engagements with those states, what we’re seeing is we’re able to provide headcounts and contact information for 120% or so of the estimated in-state veteran population. So that means we’re finding more in-state veterans than the states themselves thought they had and we’re able to tell you how to contact them.

Tom Temin Well, at some point, some states are going to have less because everybody can’t have 120%.

Greg Schlichter Luckily, we’ve had we’re on the upper end of that 100% mark.

Tom Temin And where are there more generally more veterans than they thought? Tell us some of the states.

Greg Schlichter Can’t tell you the states we’re working with. And again, our analysis was not designed to track point to point movement. But what I can tell you and again, caveat this could be a sampling error because we weren’t set up to do this. We are seeing a slight preference amongst veterans for moving to exurb and rural locations compared to their non-veteran peers.

Tom Temin City, outskirts. And what about north? South. East. West. Southwest. Northeast. Southwest. East. West. Whatever

Greg Schlichter The migratory pattern we saw does follow those of the general US population. So I believe it was California has been seeing a pretty significant outflow of people and are moving to places like Texas. I know it’s been a big attractor Florida, and that’s affecting, I think, every U.S. citizen, not not just veterans in particular.

Tom Temin Interesting. And I imagine then this type of look up service or this type of migratory research can apply to a lot of other federal agencies.

Greg Schlichter I think it could if there is a population that you need to track and there’s this operational model where you’ve got a kind of a federal overseer and a bunch of state franchises, having this sort of information can ease information flows and make sure everyone has the most up to date contact information was up to date. It’s called market sizing information for the populations they are trying to serve.

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