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Phoenix VA staff reaches out to rural communities with tangible, positive results

Veteran speaks to a Phoenix VA social worker

Claire Piazza and Leah Swenson noticed a Veteran sitting outside of the Veteran Resource Open House event in Whiteriver, Ariz., and they decided to stop what they were doing to go talk to him.

Piazza, a suicide prevention coordinator/social worker for the Phoenix VA, and Swenson, a senior social worker for the Phoenix VA, who both work at the Carl T. Hayden Medical Center, were there as part of the Veteran Services Open House hosted by the White Mountain Apache Housing Authority (WMAHA).

While talking to him, they learned that this Veteran, who completed four combat tours to Iraq, had been struggling with PTSD since 2006. When the Veteran bravely asked for help, they immediately connected him with a mental health psychologist who entered a return-to-clinic order for five therapy appointments. The Phoenix VA staff then scheduled him for a follow-up visit with HUD-VASH.

“I am thankful, but not surprised by this,” said Michael Welsh, Phoenix VA Medical Center Director. “I have seen how our staff reach out like this at event after event. This kind of compassion and service occurs at every outreach event because Phoenix VA staff don’t just care for our Veterans – they care about our Veterans.

Welsh met with the WMAHA Director Dorothy Parker and leadership at the Veterans Services Open House held at Whiteriver, March 27, where he voiced his appreciation for the continued partnership, and recognized the outreach efforts and thriving Tribal housing programs as they continue to work towards ending Veteran homelessness on Tribal Lands.

“Thank you, Deputy Welsh, for coming to our reservation once again,” said Parker. “We really appreciate you taking time away from your work in Phoenix and traveling all the way out here to be with us. Your support means a lot to our people. You have a great team behind you, and we see your leadership shine in each of your staff that come to our outreach events.”

The Phoenix VA brought many staff to the open house to provide direct assistance and information on many programs available to the Veterans. They were able to talk with and assist more than 40 Veterans who had many questions. Three Veterans were enrolled for the first time, twelve completed requests to receive VA ID cards, 15 Veterans were screened for toxic exposure, more than 30 Veterans learned how they can benefit from the Telehealth program, and many of them received information on how take part in Phoenix VA programs available to them.

Many of the Veterans also had the time to speak directly to Welsh, who listened to their challenges and learned of several success stories that came from the VA being present in rural communities.

“I really like how the VBA explained and broke down the claims process and the timelines for the how long the process will take,” said a Veteran at the open house. “And it's good to know how important it is to not miss an appointment with them, because I learned that missing appointments will cause for a denial of my claims.”

VA staff found out that the contact information they had on many of the Veterans who were there was outdated, which was resulting in missed appointments, misnaming, and incorrect information for travel reimbursement. Their information was quickly updated on the spot, and this situation was escalated so rural Veterans can receive appropriate follow-up care.

Veterans left the open house with solutions and knowledge that will help them get the care they need and use the programs they didn’t know are available to them. By bringing the VA services to the Tribal Land, this even created a comfortable space for Veteran’s to share their concerns, get answers, and see how much the Phoenix VA staff cares about them.