I Served in the Active Military. Yes, I’m One!

A woman in a white lab coat looks up from her microscope

Over 280,000 women have served in Afghanistan or Iraq since September 11, 2001.

If you are a woman who served in the active military service, it is important that you know that you are a Veteran. Women have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts in unprecedented numbers, making up eight percent of U.S. Veterans.

Currently, women account for 20 percent of new recruits, 14.5 percent of the active duty force (1.4 million), and 18 percent of the 850,000 reserve force. About 280,000 women have served in Afghanistan or Iraq since September 11, 2001.

Yet, when you returned, you may have felt isolated, unacknowledged and invisible in a civilian society that either couldn’t fathom what you’ve been through, or discounts your military experience as somehow less challenging than that of male Veterans. In a recent study, only 37 percent of women Veterans indicated they felt “recognized, respected and valued as Veterans in civilian life.”

VA’s Women’s Health Services (WHS) is sponsoring an “I’m One” campaign to raise awareness of VA benefits available for women Veterans through VBA and VHA. The campaign is designed to increase knowledge of what it means to be a Veteran and help women who served in the United States Uniformed Services identify as Veterans.

“Too pretty to have served in the military”

One respondent described her personal experience after identifying herself as a Veteran to others, “It’s a regular thing to be told I’m too pretty to have served in the military, let alone at war. I’ve been told I couldn’t possibly have any issues relating to war since I was a female and couldn’t possibly have experienced anything but rainbows and sunshine while deployed. I’ve been called a liar.”

“Since I was a female, I couldn’t possibly have experienced anything but rainbows and sunshine.”

Both in deployment and at home, female Veterans face challenges their male counterparts don’t. One of the most significant problems that female Veterans face, which often goes overlooked, is health care. According to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) report, 20 percent of female Veterans have gone without needed health care and continue to underutilize VA care largely because of a lack of knowledge about VA benefits and available services.

Today, women Veterans of the United States Uniformed Services are eligible for a broad range of programs and services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Two VA administrations highlight benefits that are available for Veterans and their families. The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) focuses on general VA benefits available for Veterans and Veterans Health Administration (VHA) focuses on health care benefits for Veterans.

A woman with graying hair smiles

If you are a woman who served in the active military service, you are a Veteran.

Benefits You Qualify For

VBA provides a variety of benefits and services to Active Duty, National Guard and Reserve Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families. Eligibility for most VA benefits is based upon discharge from active military service under other than dishonorable conditions. For National Guard and Reserve Servicemembers, the length of your service, service commitment and/or your duty status may determine your eligibility for specific benefits. Benefits offered by VBA include:

  • Compensation and Pension
  • Education and Training
  • Home Loans
  • Insurance
  • Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment
  • Burial and Memorial Services
  • Additional services and benefits

Learn more about benefits you qualify for through the Veterans Benefits Administration.

VA Health Benefits

Women are becoming the fastest growing group within the Veteran population. VA Health Benefits include all the necessary inpatient hospital care and outpatient services to promote, preserve, or restore women Veterans’ health. VHA medical facilities provide a wide range of services including traditional hospital-based services such as surgery, critical care, mental health, orthopedics, pharmacy, radiology, gynecology, maternity and physical therapy.

VA provides a full spectrum of medically necessary services, based on the judgment of your VA primary care provider and in accordance with generally accepted standards of clinical practice. These services include:

  • Preventive Care Services
  • Primary Care Services, including all women’s health primary care
  • Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
  • Inpatient Care Services
  • Ancillary Services Specialty Care Services
  • Emergency Care
  • Mental Health Care
  • Additional VA Health Care Services
  • Non-Medical Veteran Services

Participate in VA health benefits explorer to learn what VA health care benefits you could receive as an enrolled Veteran. Afterwards, take advantage of the VA health benefits you qualify for by applying for enrollment.

Additional Resources

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/August/I-Served-Active-Military-Yes-Im-One.asp

I Served in the Active Military. Yes, I’m One!

A woman in a white lab coat looks up from her microscope

Over 280,000 women have served in Afghanistan or Iraq since September 11, 2001.

If you are a woman who served in the active military service, it is important that you know that you are a Veteran. Women have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts in unprecedented numbers, making up eight percent of U.S. Veterans.

Currently, women account for 20 percent of new recruits, 14.5 percent of the active duty force (1.4 million), and 18 percent of the 850,000 reserve force. About 280,000 women have served in Afghanistan or Iraq since September 11, 2001.

Yet, when you returned, you may have felt isolated, unacknowledged and invisible in a civilian society that either couldn’t fathom what you’ve been through, or discounts your military experience as somehow less challenging than that of male Veterans. In a recent study, only 37 percent of women Veterans indicated they felt “recognized, respected and valued as Veterans in civilian life.”

VA’s Women’s Health Services (WHS) is sponsoring an “I’m One” campaign to raise awareness of VA benefits available for women Veterans through VBA and VHA. The campaign is designed to increase knowledge of what it means to be a Veteran and help women who served in the United States Uniformed Services identify as Veterans.

“Too pretty to have served in the military”

One respondent described her personal experience after identifying herself as a Veteran to others, “It’s a regular thing to be told I’m too pretty to have served in the military, let alone at war. I’ve been told I couldn’t possibly have any issues relating to war since I was a female and couldn’t possibly have experienced anything but rainbows and sunshine while deployed. I’ve been called a liar.”

“Since I was a female, I couldn’t possibly have experienced anything but rainbows and sunshine.”

Both in deployment and at home, female Veterans face challenges their male counterparts don’t. One of the most significant problems that female Veterans face, which often goes overlooked, is health care. According to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) report, 20 percent of female Veterans have gone without needed health care and continue to underutilize VA care largely because of a lack of knowledge about VA benefits and available services.

Today, women Veterans of the United States Uniformed Services are eligible for a broad range of programs and services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Two VA administrations highlight benefits that are available for Veterans and their families. The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) focuses on general VA benefits available for Veterans and Veterans Health Administration (VHA) focuses on health care benefits for Veterans.

A woman with graying hair smiles

If you are a woman who served in the active military service, you are a Veteran.

Benefits You Qualify For

VBA provides a variety of benefits and services to Active Duty, National Guard and Reserve Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families. Eligibility for most VA benefits is based upon discharge from active military service under other than dishonorable conditions. For National Guard and Reserve Servicemembers, the length of your service, service commitment and/or your duty status may determine your eligibility for specific benefits. Benefits offered by VBA include:

  • Compensation and Pension
  • Education and Training
  • Home Loans
  • Insurance
  • Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment
  • Burial and Memorial Services
  • Additional services and benefits

Learn more about benefits you qualify for through the Veterans Benefits Administration.

VA Health Benefits

Women are becoming the fastest growing group within the Veteran population. VA Health Benefits include all the necessary inpatient hospital care and outpatient services to promote, preserve, or restore women Veterans’ health. VHA medical facilities provide a wide range of services including traditional hospital-based services such as surgery, critical care, mental health, orthopedics, pharmacy, radiology, gynecology, maternity and physical therapy.

VA provides a full spectrum of medically necessary services, based on the judgment of your VA primary care provider and in accordance with generally accepted standards of clinical practice. These services include:

  • Preventive Care Services
  • Primary Care Services, including all women’s health primary care
  • Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
  • Inpatient Care Services
  • Ancillary Services Specialty Care Services
  • Emergency Care
  • Mental Health Care
  • Additional VA Health Care Services
  • Non-Medical Veteran Services

Participate in VA health benefits explorer to learn what VA health care benefits you could receive as an enrolled Veteran. Afterwards, take advantage of the VA health benefits you qualify for by applying for enrollment.

Additional Resources

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/August/I-Served-Active-Military-Yes-Im-One.asp

Combat Veteran, Doctor and Now Gardener

A man points to his garden

Navy Veteran Wesley McFarland


Photo by Mary Kay Gominger

What makes 91-year-old Navy Veteran Wesley McFarland happy now is to have his hands in the dirt, working in his garden in front of the community living center at the Biloxi VA Medical Center, which he now calls home. That wasn’t always the case though. In fact, as a boy working in the cotton fields in Franklin County, Miss., he wished he could have been anywhere else.

As the son of a sharecropper, McFarland and his family lived off the land, literally.

“We bought a few things along the way, but back then if you wanted it, you grew it,” he recalls. And nothing about growing up a farmer’s son is easy.

“You don’t know what hot is until you are in Mississippi in the middle of the summer thinning cotton all day,” McFarland said. “I did that from the time I was just a kid, until I left to join the Navy at 18.”

And that’s when McFarland’s life took the first of several drastic changes.

“I was a gunner radioman, a dive bomber, in a two-seat aircraft,” McFarland said. “It was an exciting time. It scared the hell out of me. I wish I could go back,” he continued only half kidding.

McFarland was stationed for the most part of his Navy tour on the USS Enterprise.

“After Pearl Harbor, the Enterprise was one of the few carriers still out there,” he said. “We all wondered if we would make it back after each mission. So many didn’t.”

Earned Degree on the GI Bill

McFarland did make it back though, and after a four-year stint in the Navy, he decided it was time for another drastic change. Using his newly-earned GI Bill, he decided to go to college. McFarland had never been a stellar student, he admits, working on the farm always taking a priority. Still, he attended the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., and upon graduation, he successfully applied to medical school at Tulane University in New Orleans.

“I’ve always been a believer that life is what you make it.”

Dr. McFarland settled along the Mississippi Gulf Coast in a small fishing community called Bay St. Louis, and was a general practitioner for the next 55 years.

“I was into a little bit of everything,” Dr. McFarland recalls. “I was delivering babies, making house calls, doing surgery at the hospital, then making it back to the office for regular appointments.

Patient’s bill for $3

“Back then, an office visit was $3 and a house call was $5. I can’t tell you the times I was out all hours of the night on house calls. Nor could I count the number of times I was paid by means other than cash … shrimp, fish, and bushels of vegetables. Times were tough for everyone,” he said. “But I didn’t mind. I just wanted to help people.”

He lost everything 10 years ago in Hurricane Katrina. His home was on the water in Bay St. Louis, right where Katrina came ashore.

Dr. McFarland is pleased that his service to his country qualified him to live at the VA community living center. The garden is his way of making it his home. “I enjoy watching them grow.”

“This is my touch of reality,” he said pointing to his garden. “I planted this garden with seeds and I enjoy watching them grow to maturity.” Sprouting in the garden are watermelon, cantaloupe, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions.

“I’ve always been a believer in the saying that life is what you make it,” Dr. McFarland said. “Here at my new home, I am taking that to heart.”

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/August/Combat-Veteran-Doctor-and-now-Gardener.asp

Golden Age Games Underway in Omaha

An older man with a sporting competitor's numbered bib on his shirt leans on a golf cart carrying his clubs on a golf course

The Golden Age Games is the premier senior adaptive rehabilitation program in the United States.

Army Veteran Ron Paul and hundreds of other senior soldiers are in Omaha, Neb. this week for the National Veterans Golden Age Games.

Paul, who played minor league baseball for the New York Yankees, says, “I think it helps keep a lot of guys out of the hospital.”

The games, now in their 29th year, offer sports and recreational competitive events for Veterans 55 years of age and older. It is the largest sports and recreation competition for this age group of military Veterans in the world and continue to serve as a showcase for the rehabilitation value that wellness and fitness provide in the lives of older Americans.

A medic in the Army Reserve, Paul was a standout hitter and center fielder in the Yankees‘ minor league system until he was called up during the Berlin Crisis in 1961. He talks here about how the games complement his healthy life style and fuel his drive for competition.

The National Veterans Golden Age Games, taking place this year Aug. 8-12, is the premier senior adaptive rehabilitation program in the United States, and the only national multi-event sports and recreational seniors‘ competition program designed to improve the quality of life for all older Veterans, including those with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. The VA Challenges and encourages senior Veterans to be proactive in embracing a healthier lifestyle.

A “fountain of youth” for America’s rapidly aging Veteran population.

“The games help our Veterans maintain active and healthy lifestyles, and provide them the unique camaraderie of being surrounded by fellow Veterans who share common bonds of service,” said Carla Carmichael, director, National Veterans Golden Age Games. “Through sports and exercise programs and healthy living initiatives, VA continues a long history of providing Veterans with opportunities to stay active, healthy and involved.”

Events at the games include:

  • Air Rifle
  • Badminton
  • Basketball
  • Bowling
  • Cycling
  • Horseshoes
  • Golf
  • Swimming
  • Table Tennis
  • Shuffleboard
  • Dominoes

A “fountain of youth” for America‘s rapidly aging Veteran population, the games provide a multi-event sports and therapeutic recreation program for eligible Veterans receiving care at any VA medical facility. They reflect VA’s mission — to provide quality programs and health care for older Veteran population.

Over the years, competitive events at the Golden Age Games have been adapted to meet specific needs of the participants. There are separate age groups and gender divisions and because many Veterans also face medical challenges, events were added for those who use wheelchairs and those who have visual impairments.

To accommodate the varying degrees of physical conditioning, motor and cognitive skills of the participants, basic competition rules were adapted. The modification of rules and use of adaptive equipment in many events allow non-ambulatory and visually impaired Veterans to participate.

This has made the National Veterans Golden Age Games a truly adaptive therapeutic sports competition that has become a model for other local, state and national senior sports events.

And as Veteran Paul describes it, “It‘s a total wellness program. You get physical exercise, mental exercise and I think spiritual in the sense of the camaraderie and fellowship with your teammates. I think it keeps a lot guys out of the hospital.”

See photos of the 2015 National Veterans Golden Age Games at Omaha on Flickr.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/August/Golden-Age-Games-Underway-in-Omaha.asp

My skin itches. Is it psoriasis? What is that?

A red rash on a person's elbow

Stress, climate change, infection, and certain medications may cause flare-ups.

What is psoriasis? According to VA‘s health encyclopedia, psoriasis is a chronic skin disease. It most often first appears between the ages of 15 and 35 and may run in families. Psoriasis affects nearly equal numbers of men and women.

In people with this disease, the skin grows too fast. Dead skin cells build up on the skin‘s surface to form inflamed, thick, silvery scales called plaques. Psoriasis does not spread from person to person, but what causes this disease is unknown.

Symptoms

Psoriasis plaques tend to form on the elbows, knees, scalp, navel, arms, legs, or buttocks crease. They can be unsightly, painful, and itchy. Plaques on the joints can limit movement, and people with psoriasis can have associated arthritis of the joints. On the fingernails or toenails, psoriasis can cause pitting, a change in nail color, and a change in nail shape.

Symptoms may come and go on their own. Factors such as stress, climate change, infection, and certain medications may cause flare-ups. If symptoms bother you, know that medical treatment can help relieve them. Discuss your treatment options with your health care provider.

Medical Treatments

There are many types of external medical treatments. These are used on the outside of your body. Your health care provider may prescribe one of many types of topical medications, which are put on your skin.

Topical medications can include topical steroids to reduce thickness of the plaques and inflammation, topical vitamin type medications (including vitamin D and vitamin A), or agents such as coal tar, which is now more limited in use. In some cases, the skin may be exposed to a special light in the health care provider‘s office.

Internal treatments are taken orally (by mouth) or given by injection. There are a number of oral medications. Your health care provider can tell you more about these treatments.

A doctor examines a patient's back

Dr. Sarah Seyfer treats several suspicious-looking spots on Veteran Harold Shaver’s back.

New Dermatology Clinic at Houston VA Medical Center

One of the many places Veterans can be treated for psoriasis is the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston. A new and spacious, state-of-the-art Dermatology Clinic on the second floor of the Medical Center offers expanded services to Veterans seeking care for conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

“This place is so big and modern. It makes me feel great just to be here.”

“We are so proud to be able to serve our Veterans in this beautiful new clinic,” said Dr. Ted Rosen, Chief of Dermatology Service. “We are able to offer more space, with better flow, which allows us to work more efficiently. With an increased number of Veterans seeking Dermatology care, this new clinic will allow us to provide them with top quality health care in a timely manner.”

“Wow, this new clinic is amazing,” said Willie Robinson, an Army Veteran who was the first patient seen in the new location. Robinson was eager to learn about the new equipment he would be using for upcoming treatments in the clinic. “This place is so big and modern; it makes me feel great just to be here,” he added.

Harold Shaver, WWII Merchant Marine Veteran, and wife Karen, Navy Veteran, both agree. “We‘ve been coming to the Dermatology Clinic in this hospital for over 10 years, and this is our first time to see the new clinic,” she said. “It is so beautiful and open. We can really tell that Veterans are being seen quicker, thanks to the new clinic.”

August is National Psoriasis Awareness Month. Learn more about the disease from the National Institutes of Health.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/August/My-skin-itches-is-it-psoriasis.asp

2015 VA Walk & Roll Sees Growth

A Veteran wearing a sea captain's hat salutes while rolling his motorized wheelchair among others walking around him

More than 23,000 Veterans and VA employees nationwide walked a two kilometer course for homeless Veterans, raising more than $325,000 in donations.

More than 23,500 VA employees, Veterans and community members recently teamed up to generate donations worth more than $325,600 in items such as clothing, toiletry items, food and water for homeless Veterans, during VA‘s fifth annual 2K Walk & Roll.

In addition to helping homeless Veterans, the event also promotes personal health. Since 2010 the annual event has helped generate more than $1.34 million worth of donated items.

“All donations are of course optional, but VA2K participants are provided with a list of suggested donation items that are appropriate to their location,” said Sandra Schmunk, program manager for the Veteran Health Administration‘s Employee Health Promotion, Disease and Impairment Prevention group.

VA2K is a 2-kilometer (1.24 mile) walk and roll, and this year the event was held at 211 VA locations nationwide, up from 170 in 2014. VA personnel in VA Central Office in Washington, D.C., the Veterans Health Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration, and the National Cemetery Administration participated in the event.

“The VA2K began as a way to encourage safe, effective physical activity in employees and Veterans. A 2K can be completed in 15-20 minutes, certainly doable during the workday as a break,” Schmunk said.

She added that walking is one of the safest and easiest forms of exercise that most people can take part in, either walking or rolling using a wheelchair. “You don‘t need to go to a gym, or have special equipment, other than good shoes,” Schmunk said.

See photos of this year’s VA2K on Flickr.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/July/2015-VA-Walk-Roll-Sees-Growth.asp

Ten Things to Know About the Choice Program

A male patient seated on an exam table in an exam room shakes hands with a female doctor

Call 1-866-606-8198 to make sure you qualify. We will work with you to ensure you are approved for care in your community.

The Veterans Choice Program is a new, temporary benefit that allows eligible Veterans to receive health care in their communities rather than waiting for a VA appointment or traveling to a VA facility.

1: Am I eligible for the Choice Program?

You must have been enrolled in VA health care on or before August 1, 2014, or be eligible to enroll as a recently discharged combat Veteran. You must also meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • You are told by your local VA medical facility that you will need to wait more than 30 days for an appointment from the date clinically determined by your physician, or, if not such date is provided, our preferred date.
  • Your residence is more than 40 miles driving distance from the closest VA medical facility.
  • You need to travel by plane or boat to the VA medical facility closest to your home.
  • You face an unusual or excessive burden in traveling to the closest VA medical facility based on geographic challenges, environmental factors, or a medical condition. Staff at your local VA medical facility will work with you to determine if you are eligible for any of these reasons.
  • You reside in a State or a United States Territory without a full-service VA medical facility that provides hospital care, emergency services and surgical care, and reside more than 20 miles from such a VA medical facility. Note: This criterion applies to Veterans residing in Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Guam, American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Also note that some Veterans in New Hampshire reside within 20 miles of White River Junction VAMC.

2: What do I do if I think I am eligible?

Call the Choice Program Call Center at 866-606-8198 to verify your eligibility and set up an appointment.

3: Can I call my non-VA doctor to make an appointment?

No, please call the Choice Program call center at 866-606-8198 to verify eligibility and set up an appointment.

4: How is the 40 mile calculation made?

This calculation is based on the driving distance from your permanent residence (or an active temporary address) to the closest VA facility, including Community-Based Outpatient Clinics and VA Medical Centers.

5: If I am eligible for the Choice Program, can I receive Beneficiary Travel for travel to appointments with a Choice provider?

Yes, the Choice Act does provide the ability to pay for travel to the Choice preferred provider for Veterans who are eligible for Beneficiary Travel. However, the Choice Act did not provide any new Beneficiary Travel eligibility.

6: I didn‘t get my Choice Card, what do I do?

You do not need your Choice Card to access the Choice Program. If you didn‘t receive a Choice Card, simply call 866-606-8198 to find out if you are eligible and to make an appointment.

7: How do I get my prescription filled if I use the Choice Program?

The Choice Program non-VA Provider will issue a prescription with up to a 14 day supply of a National Formulary drug. You may have the 14 day supply prescription filled at any non-VA pharmacy of your choosing and may submit a request for reimbursement to VA. For prescriptions needed past 14 days, please follow standard procedures to fill a prescription at the VA pharmacy.

8: If I use the Choice Program, does that affect my VA health care?

No, not at all. You do not have to choose between the two—the Choice Program is here to make it easier to access the care you need, close to home. 9: Am I responsible for Medicare, Medicaid or TRICARE cost-shares? No, these plans are not considered Other Health Insurance for purposes of the Choice Program. You will not be billed for any of the cost-shares associated with these plans.

10: What about VA copayments? Will they be collected by the community provider?

VA copays will be billed by VA after the appointment. If you currently pay VA copayments you will be subject to the same copayment requirements under the Choice Program. Your VA copay will be determined by VA after the care is provided.

Video Discussion of the Choice Program

On June 25, 2015 VA hosted a Google+ Hangout to provide Veterans with information about the Veterans Choice Program which allows eligible Veterans to get health care in the community from non-VA doctors. You can watch a 20-minute recording of the event here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHzHCPZ4SE4

At the eight-minute mark, hear an explanation of the “40-mile rule.”

You can click here to get answers to all your questions about the Choice Program, like:

  • What if I live in Alaska or Hawaii or New Hampshire?
  • If I don‘t qualify for the Choice Program, are there other options?
  • My non-VA doctor is not part of the Choice Program, can he/she join?
  • Am I responsible for my private insurance deductible if I get care through the Choice Program? Since the Choice Program went into effect in November of 2014, more than 45,000 medical appointments have been scheduled.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/July/10-Things-to-Know-About-Choice-Program.asp

Helping Your Provider Understand Military Culture

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/July/Helping-Your-Provider-Understand-Military-Culture.asp

Summer! Time to swim and picnic … and volunteer!

Two women talk and smile in an exercise room

Find out how you can volunteer this summer at your local VA facility.

This summer, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is inviting everyone to help us serve America’s Veterans.

We’re calling it a “Summer of Service” and it’s designed to build upon VA’s existing partnerships to increase the number of individuals and organizations serving Veterans in their communities.

Kemi Olugbakinro is participating. Here’s her interview of Veteran Samuel Morales. And read on about her Summer of Service volunteer experience at VA.

“We have made progress over the past year addressing the challenges we face in delivering care and benefits to millions of Veterans and their families,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald.

“While there is more work to do to honor our sacred commitment to Veterans, we also recognize that VA cannot do it alone. We are asking Americans everywhere to join the Summer of Service and help us give back to those who have given so much to our nation.”

At a recent open house at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in Chicago, volunteers helped staff different areas, including caregiver support. They helped answer visitors’ questions, provided information about the hospital and directed guests where to go. One local Congressional office brought their summer interns so that they could learn more about the VA system in general.

Throughout the summer, VA is working closely with Congressional partners, Veterans Service Organizations, mayors and local communities, private sector and non-profit organizations, and VA employees to identify new and innovative ways to support VA’s commitment to care for those who “have borne the battle” and their families.

As part of VA’s Summer of Service, VA facilities around the country have held open houses to spur increased local engagement and welcome members of the community interested in supporting the needs of Veterans.

On June 29, the Fargo, North Dakota VA Medical Center held a “Summer of Service” open house to provide information about the many services available there for Veterans.

VA has also established the following goals to achieve by Labor Day:

  • Increasing volunteers: committed to engaging with 100,000 volunteers to support care and benefits programs and local events.
  • Increasing community partners: committed to expanding current agreements to provide services and support reaching more than 15,000 Veterans and family.
  • Recruiting medical professionals: hiring clinicians and clinical support staff to further expand access to care and homelessness.
  • Congress: host Congressional members and staffs at VA facilities across the country.

In Dayton, Ohio, the VA medical center held an open house on July 2 as part of the Summer of Service.

VA has an outstanding volunteer program, which will be highlighted throughout the country this summer. VA will build upon the ongoing work of its more than 350,000 employees and 76,000 volunteers around the nation.

While the central focus of the campaign will be increasing volunteerism and partnerships, it will also provide individuals and communities an opportunity to support other important priorities.

Despite a hiring effort that brought more than 11,000 net new employees on board over the past year, VA still needs more health care providers, claims specialists, medical support assistants, and cemetery directors to continue to expand needed services. VA’s partners can help by getting the word out this summer.

The VA medical center in Birmingham, Ala. held a Summer of Service open house on June 30 and invited everyone to find out the many ways they could volunteer to help America’s Veterans.

To improve our Veterans’ customer service experience, VA has begun the most comprehensive reorganization in its history. The initiative, called MyVA, has been guided by ideas and recommendations from Veterans, employees, and stakeholders.

“From expanded partnerships with the private sector and non-profit organizations, to accelerating hiring, to celebrating the commitment of VA employees and volunteers — we need the help of communities everywhere to succeed,” said Secretary McDonald.

Volunteers can help serve Veterans by visiting the VA volunteer website and find out the needs of their local VA facility.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/July/Summer-Time-to-swim-and-picnic-and-volunteer.asp

Relationship a Little Rocky? Time to Retreat

A wife smiles at her husband seated facing her.

Tammy Adams and her Veteran husband Gary share a light moment during the couples retreat.

Whether you’ve been a couple for six months or 60 years, whether your journey together has hit a few bumps in the road or some really deep potholes, sometimes it’s good to just slow down, take a break, and get to know each other again.

“We designed our ‘Warrior to Soul Mate’ couples retreat to be a relationship enrichment experience,” said Dr. Susan Stanton, a psychologist at the Salisbury VA Medical Center in North Carolina. She was one of four facilitators at the two-day event, held recently at a hotel in nearby Concord. About 20 couples attended.

“Our goal,” she continued, “was to teach Veterans and their significant others how to communicate better, how to become a stronger team. We found that when couples put in the effort, they can make tremendous changes in their relationship.”

Just ask Gary Adams, a Navy Veteran who served in Iraq for the better part of 2009. He had good reasons for signing up for the retreat with his wife Tammy.

“I had some issues and I wanted to work on those,” he explained. “Plus I think being in Iraq for a year put a strain on things. Being gone is what strained it all. When I came back Tammy was a lot more self- sufficient and independent. I was having trouble adjusting to that.”

From Glad to Mad

“He’d been gone for a year,” said Tammy, “so what do you do? I had two teenagers to take care of and a father with heart problems. I was running a household, and it was running smoothly. So when he finally came home, he came home to something he didn’t expect. I was different now. And he was different because of the things he’d experienced in Iraq.”

She paused a moment to collect her thoughts, then added, “When they first come home you’re just glad. You’re glad they’re home, you’re glad they’re safe. And because you’re so glad to have him back, you’ll put up with a lot. It’s not until months later that things start hitting the fan. That’s when you start having the hard conversations.”

At the Salisbury VA’s Warrior to Soul Mate retreat, the couple learned how to have those hard conversations in a respectful, constructive way.

Women Like It

“We learned something called the Leveling Position,” Gary Adams said. “They taught us that you always want to be eye-to-eye when you’re having a conversation. You want to be facing each other. It’s very uncomfortable for me to do that, but I think women like it.”

He added: “I think for a man it’s a little uncomfortable having a conversation when the television isn’t on. But at the retreat I learned how to be present during a conversation. It’s still hard for me, though.”

“That was a big step for him,” Tammy said. “Of course all our problems aren’t going to go away overnight. But we definitely learned some things that will help us have better communication. Before, when we had an issue, we’d just get to a certain point and hit a wall. But now we’ve learned how to talk things through and not just leave stuff sitting there.”

Her husband of 25 years agreed. “Communication is a lot easier now, after the retreat,” he observed. “We definitely don’t talk around each other like we were doing before. Now it’s more of a conversation instead of a tennis match.”

The Great Escape

Ryan Wagers, chief chaplain at the Salisbury VA, said investing just a few days in your relationship can make a profound difference.

“Our Warrior to Soul Mate retreat created an opportunity for these couples to escape the normal, everyday pressures of life and concentrate on each other,” he explained. “And you can see the impact. When they first get here on Friday evening, many of them are very reserved and quiet. There’s no hand-holding, no smiling, no laughing. No connection. But by Sunday morning you can see that something remarkable has happened. The body language is all different. They’re looking at each other, smiling, kissing and holding hands. That’s very gratifying to see.”

Army Veteran Will Curry said the retreat definitely brought him and his wife closer. “My wife and I just got married in November, so we’re still learning about each other,” he said. “And we learned a lot at the retreat. I learned there were some things I was doing that I didn’t know disturbed her. Little things…”

Really? What kind of little things?

“Sometimes I’d go off by myself and I’d forget to bring my cellphone,” he admitted. “I don’t think she liked that. Until the retreat I didn’t know how bad of a thing that was, because I didn’t realize she would worry about me if she couldn’t reach me.”

His new wife, Xzavier, smiled. “He’ll be out washing the car, and I’m trying to call him, and his cellphone is sitting here in the house ringing!” she said, laughing. “He wasn’t doing it intentionally. He’s just not a cellphone person.”

What’s the Temperature in Here?

Besides proper cellphone etiquette, was there anything else useful Will discovered during the retreat? “I liked the Daily Temperature Reading exercise,“ he said. “It’s where they have you sit and talk to each other, face-to-face. Now we do our Temperature Reading over breakfast, even though my wife doesn’t like to talk when she first gets out of bed. I’m a morning person, and she’s not. But she’s making an effort.”

“He’s right. I’m not a morning person,” Xzavier said. “I would cook breakfast for him, but I wouldn’t sit down and eat with him. I’d go right back upstairs and begin my morning routine showering, getting dressed, or whatever. But during the retreat, I realized how important these Daily Temperature Readings are for us. So now I sit down and we eat breakfast together every morning. We talk, laugh and share. We’re both morning people now.”

The Daily Temperature Reading was apparently a big hit with a lot of other couples at the retreat as well. “I found it to be very useful,” said Marine Corps Veteran Shane Doyle. “They want you close together, looking at each other.”

“They also want to make sure you’re physically touching each another, holding hands while you’re talking,” said Shane’s fiancée, Michelle. “You say nicer things to someone when you’re touching them.”

She added: “They also teach you how to talk through an entire topic. They teach you how to break down a problem and talk it through. The conversation becomes much easier, much more productive. That was big for me. Shane and I did a lot of talking during the retreat. I had his undivided attention all weekend!” “And I was glad to give it,” Shane said. “She’s my best friend and I want her to know she can rely on me, that I can take things off her plate when she has too much going on.

“I’m helping her plan our wedding,” he added proudly. “We’re getting married on September 12. I’m getting the reception hall for us and I’m helping her with the invitations, and I’m doing other things. I think we’re a great team.”

Learn more about Warrior to Soul Mate retreats.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/July/Relationship-a-Little-Rocky-Time-to-Retreat.asp


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