September 2, 2009
“Even with the extensive benefits returning veterans are eligible and qualified for, our biggest challenge is getting them to enroll with the VA to receive care,” said Fern Taylor, OEF/OIF Support Team program coordinator. “Most are focusing on returning to their families, jobs, and their lives.” Above, Taylor provides information to and answers questions from a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
HOUSTON – The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) will open a new Post-Deployment Clinic on Tuesday, September 8, 2009 on the first floor, east side of the hospital in Suite 1B-373, down the hall from the Release of Information Office. This newly renovated space will serve as a “Welcome Center” for our Nation’s newest Veterans — the men and women who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq (OIF).
Recent combat has demonstrated the nature of modern warfare has changed. More war-wounded are returning with complex, multiple injuries such as amputations, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injury, visual impairments, and psychological adjustment problems.
The Post-Deployment Clinic will be a “one-stop” center performing multi-disciplinary evaluations tailored to the individual's physical, mental, and social needs. Assistance and information regarding non-medical VA benefits and community resources will also be available. If the Veteran cannot stay for the 90-minute comprehensive screening, the staff will schedule more convenient appointments for the Veteran.
In response to the unique physical and mental health needs of returning combat Veterans, the MEDVAMC assembled a team of specialists to ensure smooth transition to VA medical care. This OEF/OIF Support Team includes Fern Taylor, program coordinator; Toni Brown, L.C.S.W., program manager; Raj Dhamija, R.N., clinical nurse case manager; Cheryl Houlette, L.M.S.W., social worker; Paul Hoisington, L.C.S.W., social worker; Vickie Toliver, transition patient advocate; Rose Bush, administrative support assistant; and Drew Helmer, M.D., physician champion.
“Many recently returned Veterans have a difficult time verbalizing their symptoms,” said Toliver. “This initial screening is critical to identify, as quickly as possible, any injuries they may have sustained in combat.”
Since the actual effects of combat-related injuries may take years to develop, OEF/OIF Veterans are allowed five years after separation from the military to apply for VA medical services. Veterans can become "grandfathered" for future access by enrolling with VA during this period. Veterans with service-related injuries or illnesses always have access to VA care for the treatment of their disabilities without any time limit, as do lower-income Veterans. Hospital care, outpatient treatment, and nursing home services are all offered at the MEDVAMC.
“We look forward to providing an outstanding first impression for our newest Veterans, many of whom suffer from health-related issues specific to their recent deployments,” said Brown. “Having a team in place to focus on these relatively unique concerns will improve the care of these Veterans and will smooth their transition. As always, the OEF/OIF program is available to assist any recent combat Veteran with questions or concerns about their healthcare or benefits.”
To date, the OEF/OIF Support Team at the MEDVAMC has assisted more than 8,000 Veterans of the current conflicts.
“Even with the extensive benefits returning Veterans are eligible and qualified for, our biggest challenge is getting them to enroll with the VA to receive care,” said Taylor. “Most are focusing on returning to their families, jobs, and their lives.”
The OEF/OIF Support Team proactively meets with local Reserve and National Guard Units before and after deployment to brief about available VA benefits, placing special emphasis on mental health screening and counseling. In addition to making personal home visits and manning information booths at military family days and welcome home events, team members also attend meetings of various community and Veterans groups in an attempt to contact eligible Veterans who have not yet enrolled for VA care.
“We want each and every Veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan to know we are here for them,” said Helmer. “VA services are not only available, but accessible.”
To contact the OEF/OIF Support Team, call (713) 794-7034/8825, FAX (713) 794-7767/7478, or email vhahouOEFOIF@va.gov.
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