VHA Community Partnership Challenge - National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships
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VHA Community Partnership Challenge

VHA Community Partnership Challenge winners help Veterans lead healthier, happier lives

Three years ago, a 55-year-old U.S. Army Veteran was ready to give up after his mother died, and he lost his job, car, and home. He became addicted to alcohol and suffered from depression. With assistance from the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center (VAMC) and a program called Turnaround Tuesday, the now-sober Veteran has a job at a local hotel, lives in an apartment he pays for himself, and has been granted overnight visits with his two sons.

The Ralph H. Johnson VAMC/Lowcountry Hospitality Association partnership has resulted in the placement of 97 Veterans in jobs since its inception in 2017. A professional hospitality recruiter, in partnership with the VAMC’s Homeless Program, meets in-person with Veterans every Tuesday to match them with positions that fit their skill sets. The goal is not only to employ Veterans, but to keep them employed in careers that come with comprehensive benefits that can give them a steady income and help them become independent.

This is just one example of how lives can be changed for the better when VHA facilities collaborate with community organizations to provide services and resources designed to help Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors. The partnership between Ralph H. Johnson VAMC and the Lowcountry Hospitality Association in Charleston, South Carolina, which resulted in Turnaround Tuesday, is one of the three winners of the 2020 VHA Community Partnership Challenge.

The Cincinnati VA Medical Center (VAMC) and Freestore Foodbank has provided more than 10,000 meals to hungry Veterans and their families over the last three years. It is estimated that food insecurity, or lack of access to fresh and healthy food, affects more than 25% of the Veteran population.

The food pantries, each known as a Red, White and Blue Mart, are located within the medical center, at a VA outpatient clinic, and in a VA homeless clinic in Cincinnati. Veterans are screened by their Patient Aligned Care Team (PACT) for food insecurity and can be handed several bags of food the same day as their visit. One of the families helped was an elderly Veteran and his wife with limited financial means who are raising two grandchildren. The PACT sent the family home with several bags of food including child-friendly items such as cereal, macaroni and cheese, ravioli, and several coloring books, crayons, and puzzles. Items like coloring books and snacks are kept in stock since more young children are coming to primary care visits with Veterans.

One of Cincinnati VAMC’s strategic goals is to establish viable on-site food pantries for all VA Community Based Outpatient Clinics in the area. Freestore Foodbank has agreed to support one-year startups of new pantries at six VA clinics.

VA Ann Arbor Medical Center Toledo Community Based Outpatient Clinic partners with the Toledo Bar Association and provides free monthly walk-in clinics to help Veterans with noncriminal legal issues that affect social determinants of health (SDOH), or the conditions in environments where Veterans live learn, play, worship, and age. Examples of SDOH include access to employment, food security, and safe housing, or, as one 95-year-old Veteran found out, income, based on annuity payments from his retirement account after he mistakenly received notice that he was no longer eligible. A volunteer attorney helped the Veteran prove he was still living in order to receive his payments, prompting the grateful man to quip, “Wait ‘til I tell my cat. She’s gonna be glad I can still afford the fancy cat food.”

Since 2015, 895 Veterans have been served by a team of private practice lawyers, some of whom are Veterans themselves. Three lawyers who attend the monthly clinics have obtained VA accreditation and are well-versed in benefits and surviving spouse benefits. The pro-bono attorneys work to prevent and remedy employment discrimination, secure service-connected educational benefits, and assist in securing unemployment compensation and/or unpaid wages. They also help Veterans with eviction notices, landlord-tenant issues, and bankruptcy, which has a direct effect on securing stable, safe housing for Veterans and their families.

This partnership helps to release Veterans from legal burdens, which aids in reducing the overall “stress of life” which, in turn, can also reduce suicidality. Partnership leaders estimate that the monthly clinics, in addition to clinics devoted to special topics, such as durable power of attorney, have provided more than $344,000 in free legal services to Veterans.

“The Community Partnership Challenge showcases the amazing work that’s being done by VA employees at a grassroots level to augment the services VHA provides,” said Dr. Tracy Weistreich, nurse executive, VHA Office of Community Engagement (OCE). “Partnerships like these result in making life healthier and happier for Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors.”

SDOH is the theme for this year’s annual contest, which is hosted by OCE. When Veterans have access to critical SDOH such as housing, employment, health care, food security, education, spiritual support, and transportation, they have better health outcomes.

The winners of the 2020 VHA Community Partnership Challenge were honored in a virtual ceremony on Aug. 27.

Posted August 27, 2020