"Thank You For Your Service: The Rise of the Veteran Nonprofit Sector"
On a sunny November morning in 2013, I was driving along the 405 North freeway with the radio on, trying to tune out the commercials that had just come on. And during that particular commercial break, I heard 4 (FOUR!) separate commercials for veteran-focused charity programs. Most people might think, "Cool, veteran programs are good, I like veterans. Rock on." But my sociology gears started turning -- why was I hearing more of these commercials now than during earlier years (hadn't OEF/OIF been raging for 10 years?)? Why didn't the Wounded Warrior Project exist 30 years ago (there were wounded warriors then, too, right?)? Wasn't it the state's job to provide for veterans (isn't that part of the deal when you join the military?)? Why were private organizations getting involved (who were these people anyway?)?
I had spent my entire life around the military - raised by a family with 4 lifer Marines in two different Marine Corps towns. I grew up going to base and hearing Devil Dog stories. Naturally, the military became an important focus for my academic research. But on this day, in the car on the 405 listening to the radio, I realized just how little I knew about what happens to people after the military.
This initial curiosity grew into a multi-year dissertation research project. For 3 years, I researched Veteran-focused Nonprofit Organizations (VNPOs) in San Diego. I sought answers to my original questions: Who was doing this work? Was this work relatively new/contemporary? If so, why? And what role did the state have in any of this? Through interviews with local organization leaders, analyses of IRS master file data, and an ethnography embedded in a local VNPO, I learned that what is happening in the VNPO sector mirrors some, but not all, of the trends in the broader Nonprofit Sector. And where it diverges, the VNPO sector shows evidence of a distinctly military mindset at work. Turns out, when you put veterans in charge of charitable organizations, they bring their military tool kits with them.
My dissertation was generously funded by grants from the UCSD Frontiers of Innovation Scholars Program and the Judith and Neil Morgan Endowed Fellowship at UCSD.
I successfully defended my dissertation in August 2018, and I am in the process of turning my dissertation manuscript into a book.