USFSM's Dr. Ramakrishna Govindu, Dr. Eric Hodges and Dr. Thomas Becker are surveying Manatee County veterans about their quality of life.

USFSM researchers surveying Manatee County veterans

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: October 31, 2018

SARASOTA, Fla. (Oct. 31, 2018) – A USF Sarasota-Manatee professor says little is known locally about veterans’ physical and mental health, employment history, relationships and lifestyle. To address this, he’s teaming with two other USFSM researchers to reach out to 5,000 Manatee County veterans to determine the services they need most.

Dr. Eric Hodges, a professor of interdisciplinary social science, is collaborating with business professor Dr. Thomas Becker and Dr. Ramakrishna Govindu, an instructor of information systems and decision sciences. Together, the three are surveying veterans about their well-being.

The Manatee County study is their first research effort since forming the USFSM Veteran Research Coalition, which is designed to conduct evidence-based, community-focused research to improve the lives of veterans and their families.

The VA estimates about 35,000 veterans live in Manatee County, including retirees who’ve become permanent residents, but little is known about their quality of life.

“The Veterans Administration provides very generic data on a county level – age, gender and branch of service – but we know very little about their employment status, physical and mental health, education level, relationships or their living environments,” Dr. Hodges said.

The professors hope their survey, called the Manatee County Veterans Study, sheds light on veterans’ needs so that outreach efforts and services can be tailored to them. The 50-question assessment, based on a survey developed by the World Health Organization, is anonymous and delves into issues from physical and mental health to relationships and veterans’ living environments.

In addition, a second survey of veterans’ family members has been created. The researchers are hoping that together the two surveys form a composite of Manatee’s veteran population to identify the veterans’ needs.

“One of the limitations with survey research is that it only measures the perceptions of those who complete it,” said Hodges. “By adding the perceptions of family members, the team hopes that we will get a more comprehensive picture of the veterans.”

The survey was released online Oct. 16 at https://tinyurl.com/ycnf3sfb. The family survey can be taken at https://tinyurl.com/ycgdlbtl. A paper version is due for release near Veterans Day, Nov. 12. The professors hope to post flyers promoting the study at veterans organizations, libraries and some supermarkets.

Also, Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in St. Petersburg, which covers Manatee County, has agreed to send information about the survey to 120,000 veterans regionally. The professors will screen the responses to identify the Manatee veterans.

The study will run through December and then be brought back in the spring – March through May – to help the researchers gather more data to form a thorough picture. They’re aiming to sample 5,000 veterans to produce a statistically accurate representation of the county’s veterans.

Dr. Hodges said he was approached by the Manatee County Veterans Council in November 2017 about developing the study. The researchers started working on it in December. In addition to its academic possibilities and potential to benefit the community, the project appealed to them personally.

Dr. Hodges, a Marine Corps veteran, said he encountered veterans struggling to readjust during his graduate student days in Virginia and hopes the survey leads to better coordination of services to help veterans and their families. Dr. Becker echoed that sentiment, saying he witnessed how combat can affect individuals and families.

“My father was a veteran of World War II, having been at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed. The experience profoundly affected him, in some positive ways and in a number of negative ways,” he said. “I respect and appreciate the men and women who have put their lives on the line in defending this country.”

The professors said they expect to produce several papers based on their research. They also hope that the survey serves as a model for other counties to follow.

“As far as we know, there have been no other scientific studies in Florida that focused on veteran quality of life at the county level,” Dr. Hodges said.

For more about the Manatee County Veterans Study visit, www.facebook.com/usfsmvrc.

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