National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships
OCE Partnership Impact
April is National Volunteer Month and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has many reasons to celebrate — more than 61,000 reasons, in fact. This is the number of individual volunteers who gave their time and skills to help Veterans in fiscal year 2019. More than 9.2 million volunteer hours were donated nationwide, including through 7,400 national and local partnerships.
The VA Voluntary Service (VAVS) runs an annual award program to encourage and recognize the creation of partnerships with businesses and community organizations whose volunteers amplify VA’s ability to serve Veterans. The American Spirit Award program highlights various Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities that have organized effective volunteer initiatives in one of six categories of collaboration: with seniors, students, the military, civic groups, corporations, and faith-based organizations.
The 2020 winner in the corporate engagement category is the Maryland VA Health Care System, which has created a partnership with Lowe’s and IBM employees to build and maintain relaxation areas for VA patients and staff across the health care system’s three campuses. The winner in the civic engagement category is the Tomah VA Medical Center in Wisconsin, which works with the American Red Cross to offer a range of activities in support of Veterans and their families. VAVS Program Analyst Tyrone Green calls these collaborations “a new frontier with untapped resources” that have enabled VAVS “to be more creative and impactful.”
VAVS Director Dr. Sabrina Clark says that these partnerships provide Veterans with even more services and that her team “often asks VHA providers, ‘What else would you do, if you had more money, more community resources, or more time?’ The answers differ — but the potential impact of volunteers is always a solution.” She shares that volunteer programs are continually finding creative ways to provide support for every area of VA hospitals and clinics.
These programs support positive health outcomes for both Veterans and volunteers by increasing their socialization and sense of community. These are environmental factors known as social determinants of health (SDOH) that also include other factors such as access to food security, housing, and transportation. Mr. Green explains why volunteers benefit from these programs, too: “There’s a direct correlation between giving back and being able to sustain yourself,” he says, “It’s almost medicine.”
Nominations for the VAVS American Spirit Award are collected each fall and winners are announced the following spring. The VHA Office of Community Engagement (OCE) participates in the annual selection process. OCE helps grow partnerships across VHA that benefit Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors and that focus on ways to improve their access to the SDOH.
Dr. Clark says that OCE and VAVS share the goal of promoting “opportunities for the community to contribute to VA’s mission.” Through programs such as the American Spirit Award, she says, VA medical centers can “inspire and motivate someone else to get involved in service to Veterans.”
To discover opportunities to serve Veterans at your local VHA facility, use this directory: https://www.volunteer.va.gov/directory/index.asp. For more information about OCE and its partnership work, visit https://www.va.gov/HEALTHPARTNERSHIPS/partnerships.asp.
Posted April 28, 2020