United Through Reading - National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships
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United Through Reading

New Partnership With United Through Reading Connects Veterans and Families

Veterans who receive care away from their families now have a unique opportunity to remain connected.  A new partnership between the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and United Through Reading (UTR) allows Veterans to share everyday moments of reading with their children or grandchildren, regardless of distance.

Bonding Through Books

UTR, a San Diego-based nonprofit organization, was created to build family bonds during military separations through shared story time. A 2016 study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine states parenting practices such as shared book reading lead to positive child outcomes. Through VHA’s new partnership with UTR, Veterans can now increase family bonds and childhood wellness by reading together.

The VHA Office of Community Engagement (OCE) facilitated the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between VHA and UTR. The joint effort aims to connect Veterans in Mental Health Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Programs (MH RRTP) with the children in their lives through video-recorded readings. The UTR program is particularly well-suited for Veterans in MH RRTPs since these admissions can last weeks to more than one year in some cases.

“Like children separated from their deployed military parents, children of Veterans in extended care may experience high levels of emotional difficulties during family separation and show symptoms of anxiety,” according to Sally Zoll, Chief Executive Officer of UTR. “Even though our program is not complicated, we believe it could have a profound effect on the emotional wellness of Veterans and their children and potentially reduce the stress and anxiety caused by separation.”

Partnership In Practice

Here’s how the partnership works: 

  • UTR will provide a selection of books enjoyed by children of all ages for Veterans to use in their recordings.
  • A trained UTR volunteer will assist the Veteran in making his or her private recording.
  • Voluntary Services coordinates UTR volunteer activities at VA medical centers.
  • VA medical centers use laptop computers with recording software and suitable rooms for recording at participating facilities.
  • Once the recording is complete, the UTR volunteer will give the Veteran the video and the book, which is then mailed or delivered to the family at no cost to Veteran.

The videos can be viewed whenever a child wants to spend special, uninterrupted time with their Veteran loved one. The readings also help maintain family connections that can be disrupted when a Veteran must receive treatment away from home. This can be especially important for Veterans during inpatient rehabilitation and may even enhance the recovery process. 

VHA and UTR are rolling out recording opportunities in early 2018 beginning in Prescott, Arizona; Orlando, Florida; and Battle Creek, Michigan. As interest builds, more VHA sites are expected to join with UTR to offer the program to Veterans and their families.

Dr. Mary Beth Skupien, Director of the Battle Creek VA Medical Center, said they have moved forward with integrating UTR into residential mental health and substance abuse treatment.  She said many Veterans have struggled since separating from the military and have developed strained relationships with their families, children and grandchildren. 

While Veterans are receiving care through the Battle Creek VA Psychosocial Residential Treatment Program for up to 90 days, they have the opportunity to reconnect with their children or grandchildren through the UTR Program. 

“One Veteran who participated in UTR offered, ‘I have not seen my family in a while and I loved it; it helped me feel connected.’” Dr. Skupien said.

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