VHA Community Partnership Challenge - Office of Community Engagement
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VHA Community Partnership Challenge

Community Partnership Challenge series: How one Veteran Community Partnership supports a critical social determinant of health

This is the first in a series of articles about how various VA and VHA offices, initiatives, and programs support social determinants of health—the theme of the VHA 2020 Community Partnership Challenge. The first Community Partnership Challenge series feature: The Hampton Roads Veteran Community Partnership.

The Hampton Roads Veteran Community Partnership (VCP) has hosted events and trainings since 2008 that aim to educate Veterans, community members, and health care professionals on topics relevant to Veterans’ well-being. Those efforts are in keeping with the focus of VHA’s 2020 Community Partnership Challenge because education is one of the social determinants of health (SDOH)—this year’s Challenge theme.

The Challenge is an annual contest hosted by VHA’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE) that highlights nonmonetary, community-level partnerships between VHA and nongovernmental organizations that serve Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors. SDOH are conditions in the environments in which Veterans live, learn, work, play, worship, and age. Other SDOH include: employment, food security, housing, spiritual support, and transportation. When Veterans have access to positive SDOH such as these, they lead healthier lives.

“Positive SDOH decrease suicide risk, too, so Veterans’ access to them is critical,” said Dr. Tracy L. Weistreich, acting director of OCE. “A strong network of social support is another SDOH, and the community’s involvement in the activities of this VCP offers that resource to Veterans.”

The Hampton Roads VCP has a history of providing education on a broad range of topics for the Veterans in its community. This Virginia-based coalition offers: information on hospice care, education on how to enroll for benefits at the Veterans Administration (VA), trainings for social workers on Veteran suicide prevention, information sessions for Veteran caregivers about Alzheimer’s’ disease, and much more.

“We educate Veterans on everything that deals with Veterans,” said Mary Dorss, community liaison for Freda H. Gordon Hospice & Palliative Care, one of the health care agencies working as part of this VCP. “That’s one of the unique things about our committee.”

Education is critical to the well-being of those in the Hampton Roads VCP community, explained Yvonne Bailey, a social worker at the Hampton VA Medical Center (HVAMC) who works on the VCP.

“You’d be amazed how many people in this area do not know how to apply for their VA benefits,” she elaborated. “When we started in 2008, the internet within VA wasn’t as savvy – we’d go out into the community.”

Comprising the Hampton Roads coalition are program representatives from HVAMC and other community health providers and agencies as well as Veterans and their caregivers. Hampton Roads is the very embodiment of a VCP: these coalitions bring community entities together to foster Veterans’ access to care and supportive services at VA and beyond. Any one VCP in the United States—there are 41 as of December 2019—is part of the national VCP initiative, a joint project of the Veteran’s Health Administration’s (VHA’s) Offices of Geriatrics and Extended Care, Rural Health, and Caregiver Support, and OCE.

To reach its audience of Veterans, community members, and health care professionals, the VCP is always working to expand its network and create compelling events.

“We try to target folks who are touchpoint for Veterans,” said Ms. Dorss. The VCP creates flyers and a newsletter and has compiled a mailing list to reach these target individuals so that they can invite their networks to the VCP’s educational events. Often, representatives from local age-related groups, universities, and university geriatric social work departments attend or collaborate. Each year the VCP has hosted a one-day conference focused on education around palliative care and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In January, the VCP held an educational event on suicide prevention. A representative from the VA Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention attended to educate Veterans, community members, and social workers about ways to assess suicide risk in Veteran communities and support prevention efforts.

In November, the VCP will hold a training event around the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War to educate attendees about the needs that Veterans of that war may have, such as support related to certain physical disabilities such as amputations, care for psychological issues such as PTSD, and aging-related needs such as home health care or hospice care.

Ms. Bailey and Ms. Dorss said that they take pride in the work their VCP does because the education extends to the entire community. In turn, it’s not only Veterans, but also their caregivers and loved ones, who experience the benefits of this SDOH.

“Alzheimer’s, PTSD, cancer, these are not one-person diseases, they affect a whole community,” said Ms. Bailey.

“Even though VCP is a VA initiative, the whole idea behind it is to really open it up to the community and people not affiliated with VA,” Mrs. Dorss said. “We’re really looking to break down some of those barriers and improve communications between VA, community organizations, and everyday individuals.”

To read more about what other VCPs throughout the country are doing for Veterans, please visit: https://www.va.gov/healthpartnerships/vcp.asp.


Posted March 04, 2020