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VHA Community Partnership Challenge

Annual Community Partnership Challenge shines spotlight on organizations that help Veterans

As the largest integrated health care system in the United States, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides health care and services to more than 9 million Veterans, but it also relies on the generosity of partners who share their resources to serve Veterans.

Every year, the VHA Community Partnership Challenge highlights the most impactful of these nonmonetary community partnerships with nongovernmental organizations. A panel of judges reviews dozens of submissions each year to make this determination. The national contest is the signature event of VHA’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE), and aims to honor the work of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers and program office employees who have developed these partnerships. All partnerships help VHA serve more Veterans by augmenting the services VA is able to provide.

Ms. Lelia Jackson, who started the contest in 2014, said partnerships were occurring “in the field” at the community level, but not nationally. She credits the visionary leadership of the late Dr. Bob Jesse, who served as principal deputy under secretary for health, and Dr. Jennifer Lee, former special assistant to the principal deputy under secretary for health for health partnerships, for establishing strategic partnerships for VHA at the national level.

“Dr. Lee believed if you get people motivated and competitive around showing off their partnerships that might be a way to find out what’s out there, while also spotlighting the importance of community partnerships,” said Ms. Jackson

Ms. Jackson, now senior strategist with VHA’s Office of the Chief of Staff, said the first challenge “was incredible. It was very well represented across the whole Veterans Health Administration.” She recalls partnerships that centered on critical needs such as feeding underserved and homeless Veterans—which is still an effort many partnerships are focused on today. There were also unique ideas, such as a partnership with an airline so that Veterans with shrapnel in their bodies could get through airport screenings more easily, or “how to make the friendly skies friendly for people with disabilities,” she said.

From there, each year’s contest provided new lessons learned, contributing to VHA’s ability to provide tools and best practices on how to form partnerships. Ms. Jackson helped stand up OCE, the VHA program office which facilitates and provides expertise in support of VHA nonmonetary partnerships at the local, regional, and national level.

“We’re always trying to come up with innovative ways to meet the needs of Veterans, and you can’t be everywhere. While our budget might seem big, it still can’t meet every need. Our community partners have helped us do things we have never been able to do before. As an example, VA does not specialize in fly fishing,” Ms. Jackson explained of a partnership that contributes to Veterans’ whole health and mental health.

Ms. Jackson has seen partnerships grow, and through the vetting process, led by VA’s Office of General Counsel, even lead to legislation that allowed VA to close a gap in its services.

The Challenge is one more way to showcase the ingenuity and innovation that takes place within organizations every day in the field, she said. “We’ve probably just scratched the surface, there’s so much richness out there.”

The theme of the 2020 VHA Community Partnership Challenge is the social determinants of health (SDOH), which are the conditions in the environments where Veterans live, learn, play, worship, and age. Positive SDOH, such as access to education, employment, food security, housing, spiritual support, and transportation, make life and health better for Veterans.

“Partnerships are an important component of VHA care that can address needs across all social determinants of health. Many Veterans need support in those areas now, during the coronavirus pandemic especially,” said Dr. Tracy L. Weistreich, OCE nurse executive. “The field-based employees know what the Veterans in their community need and are creative in partnering to achieve optimal outcomes. We lift up these best practices to support adoption across the entire VHA system.”

The winners of the 2020 contest are expected to be announced this summer.

The top three winners receive:

  • Recognition in a ceremony by the under secretary for health/executive in charge;
  • Inclusion in a ceremonial video clip to be shared and seen VA-wide;
  • A feature on the OCEwebsite;
  • A feature story on VAntage Point, VA’s official blog;
  • An award for the VA facility from the VA secretary and the VHA under secretary for health.

For more information on OCE’s work or to contact OCE for partnership opportunities, please visit:

External Link Disclaimer: This page contains links that will take you outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs website. VA does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of the linked websites.

Posted July 24, 2020