United States Department of Veterans Affairs
 Health Care
Former Army Nurse Now Veterans' Greatest Advocate
Nurse stands next to male patient
Nurse/Patient Advocate Tracey-Lee Baker (left), and Annette Turner, program assistant, help OIF Veteran Nicholas Haruk.

National Nurses Week, May 6-12, is a time when VA recognizes the outstanding work of all our Nurses. This week we shine the light on several of our OEF/OIF Nurses who care for our newest population of Veterans.

As a nurse receiving some of the most severely wounded in Afghanistan, Tracey-Lee Baker held the hand of injured servicemembers and helped them talk through the fear and the pain.

Today, those experiences enhance her role as a Transition Patient Advocate at the Orlando VA Medical Center.

Her years as an Army Nurse Corps Officer enabled her to understand the uncertainty and bewilderment of some Veterans transitioning from Department of Defense medical care to the VA. Once again, she is able to take their hand and, this time, guide them through the forms, explanations and regulations on their way to the care they have earned from their service.

The former Major Tracey-Lee Baker learned her nursing skills at Norfolk State University, Virginia, a long way from her home in Kingston, Jamaica. Before her tour of duty in Afghanistan with the 48th Combat Support Hospital, she served three years in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

"I miss the work in the ICU. Although we didn't always have all the supplies we needed during my deployment, we were able to stabilize the most severely wounded and prepare them for flights to Germany or the states. Every day, we would see the real sacrifices these young men and women make for their country."

At the Orlando VA Medical Center, Tracey-Lee is part of the team that welcomes home and makes transition easier for Veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF).

The great job her team does was recognized by a special award from Representative Corrine Brown of Florida's Third Congressional District, "In recognition of outstanding and invaluable service to the community."

Tracey-Lee reaches out to returning Veterans in numerous ways, one of which is participation in the Department of Defense "Yellow Ribbon" program where VA staff provide "boots on the ground" for events for each of the services during the post-deployment cycle, meeting with returning servicemembers. VA has supported over 665 events Nationwide, reaching over 80,000 service members and 54,000 family members.

"You Need to See Tracey-Lee"

One story demonstrates why the VA is saluting Tracey-Lee during the celebration of National Nursing Week 2010: A Veteran who had initially not been happy with the VA was about to give up when his buddy told him, "No, man, you need to see Tracey-Lee."

The next day he did. She escorted him around the medical center, filling out all the forms, taking him to see the right people and even made an appointment for him to see a doctor that day.

His reaction: "I am so glad I came to see you…nobody has ever treated me that way." He still stops in to say hello whenever he comes in for an appointment.

Tracey-Lee explains, "That's my job. I will do whatever I can to see that Veterans transitioning to VA care get the service they deserve."

Some weeks, her team sees 12 new Veteran patients. Some weeks, it's 50.

The mother of three, Tracey-Lee proudly points out that her oldest boy, Paul, is 21 and in the Army. When he's home, they celebrate with her famous curry goat, a delicious part of her Jamaican heritage. She also relaxes by reading the latest novel by James Patterson, one of her favorite authors.

For this retired Army officer, who thought she wanted to be an accountant in high school, choosing a career in nursing turned out to be one of her most satisfying decisions. "It's a wonderful career," she quietly concludes.

Next story: A Nurse from the Start, a Nurse at Heart