|VA Social Workers Elizabeth Rahilly (left) and Kristen Tuttle with the wallet cards they first created to help Veterans find VA services.|
(VA Photo by Lynne Kantor)
Two VA employees had an idea that would help Veterans coming home from combat zones, and they were going to get it done. They were so determined to do this that they would sit in their kitchen for hours cutting out little cards with their scissors.
Their idea was to create a wallet-sized card that contained important information a returning Veteran could use to get help.
Their jobs qualify them to see the need. Elizabeth Rahilly is a VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic Social Worker, and Kristen Tuttle is a Social Work Case Manager, working with Veterans returning from duty in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. They work at the Hudson Valley Health Care System, just north of New York City.
Tuttle and Rahilly have a unique point of distribution for their cards.
“A critical contact in society that many returning Veterans make is with the law enforcement and first-responder community,” Tuttle explains. “Unfortunately, many of the circumstances involve things like reckless or aggressive driving, automobile and motorcycle accidents, emotional crises, alcohol and drug incidents, and, the worst, suicide.
“We approached the law enforcement and first-responder communities and offered them a way to let returning service men and women, and their families, know where help is available at the VA.”
“We also educate the first-responder community about the many issues returning men and women are facing,” Rahilly notes. “We travel to departments and agencies and provide basic information about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and the other services VA provides.”
Gerald Culliton, VA Hudson Valley Director, says of their success, “What we have discovered is that the emergency services community is an essential partner in reaching out to our returning Veterans. The first-responder initiative is an innovative way to get the right material in the right hands when it is urgently needed. I’m so proud of our outreach team and so grateful to our area police and firefighters for their assistance and caring.”
|Thousands of cards like this one are being used by First Responders in New York to get important VA services information to Veterans|
Over 50 Presentations in a Year
The dedicated duo has made over 50 presentations to community programs in the last year alone.
In addition to the compassion they feel for Veterans in their jobs, Tuttle and Rahilly heard the need for information from conversations over the dinner table. Tuttle’s family is deeply embedded in the 911/Firefighter/EMS system and Rahilly’s husband, who served in Operation Desert Storm, works in law enforcement.
“Not only were they very valuable in explaining their interactions with returning Veterans, they were very handy with the scissors when we first started making the cards,” Tuttle recalls with a smile.
Now, they don’t need scissors. VA management saw the great job they were doing and 100,000 new cards arrived this month from the print shop.
The tri-fold cards list the common symptoms of PTSD and TBI and provide vital contact information for VA facilities in Hudson Valley. The cover of the card reads, “Coming Home can be Difficult...We’re Waiting for You.”
The feedback from their efforts has been dramatic and rewarding.
Tuttle describes an encounter that had a positive impact on several generations of Veterans.
“I met with a Veteran who had come to enroll for services for the first time. He said he had been in the (first responder) training that we gave at his office.
“He had recently returned from Iraq and had concerns about whether I would disclose to anyone at his job that he came in to register for VA care. This was a major concern for him, and I reassured him that the VA takes confidentiality very seriously.
“Since I have been working with him, he has brought in four other family members to the VA to enroll for care for the very first time, just as he did months earlier. He brought his father and uncle, both who served in Vietnam, and later brought in his cousin and brother, both who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“One Veteran brought three generations together, to the same place for the best care.”
Faculty Member Recognized Symptoms
Rahilly shares another successful experience:
Campus security was called to where a student was having an unknown problem. When security and staff responded, they could see the student was in some kind of emotional distress, and one of the faculty members remembered to ask him if he had recently served in the military.
The student said yes, he had recently returned from Iraq and then described symptoms of possible PTSD and flashbacks.
|We ask them not to say ‘Are you a Veteran?’ because from our experiences, many Veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan do not see themselves as such.|
|—Elizabeth Rahilly, VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic Social Worker|
The faculty member had our tri-fold card in his shirt pocket and gave it to the Veteran.
Campus security voluntarily brought the Veteran to the VA that day and he was linked to VA care.
Tuttle and Rahilly encourage first responders to ask, ‘Have you had recent military service?’ Rahilly advises, “We ask them not to say ‘Are you a Veteran?’ because from our experiences, many Veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan do not see themselves as such.”
They may think a Veteran is their mother or father or grandfather, or someone who is injured or disabled, and that is not how they see themselves.
Sean Clark, VA National Coordinator of Veterans Justice Outreach, praised their efforts, saying, “This is a great example of the kind of proactive engagement with the community, and specifically with law enforcement, that the Veterans Justice Outreach program is trying to promote. These cards, and the outreach that goes with them, will bring Veterans into treatment who VA otherwise might not have seen.”
Tuttle and Rahilly are very confident in why they work so hard for Veterans:
“We feel very strongly about making sure that Veterans get the welcome home they deserve and the care they need.
“We do this not only to make a difference, but to honor the service of our family members and friends, and of all of the Veterans we are privileged to serve.
“With every tri-fold, we are placing the link to VA care in the hands of America’s returning Veterans.”
By Hans Petersen, VA Staff Writer