Summit seeks ways to make VA more welcoming to all - Milwaukee VA Medical Center
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Milwaukee VA Medical Center

 

Summit seeks ways to make VA more welcoming to all

VISN 12 Mental Health Summit flyer

The 2021 VISN 12 Mental Health Summit is Sept. 2.

By David Walter
Friday, August 27, 2021

How to make Veterans Affairs medical centers welcoming to Veterans from diverse backgrounds is the goal of a virtual event set for next week.

The 2021 VISN 12 Mental Health Summit, to take place over Webex, will be 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 2. It will include mental health experts from the Milwaukee VA Medical Center along with other regional VA hospitals, including Jesse Brown and Hines in Chicago as well as Iron Mountain, Madison and Tomah.

Registration information is available here.

A panel discussion will take place 9 to 10:30 a.m., followed by breakout sessions for each of the VA hospitals from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

“Be There For All Veterans” is the theme, which came from discussions on how to better reach Native American Veterans. That led to a broader theme of reaching Veterans from traditionally underrepresented groups.

“We pivoted to what VAs are doing nationwide to create the most welcoming environment for all Veterans, including those from marginalized and underserved communities,” said Dr. Michael McBride, Milwaukee VA psychiatrist, saying discussions last year regarding equity, inclusivity and diversity were key.

He noted that the military was at the forefront of integration and that VA should stay “ahead of the curve.”

“There are many examples in the history of the military where they have taken those steps to improve equity and diversity within the organization, and the VA naturally follows that,” he said.

“We want to get input from our community partners on what more can be done, where we are falling short and where we can make improvements,” Dr. Michael McBride, Milwaukee VA psychiatrist

To that end, the event will feature experts on racial and ethnic minorities, women, LGBTQ Veterans and those with severe mental illness.

“Those Veterans are often stigmatized and underserved, so our effort to create an environment that’s welcoming to them is very important,” he said.

Organizers hope the event provides examples of what is working and what isn’t, McBride said. That will be a prime focus of the breakout sessions.

“We want to get input from our community partners on what more can be done, where we are falling short and where we can make improvements,” he said.

Reaching more Veterans

Another aspect of the summit is reaching Veterans where they live.

Veterans often face many obstacles in getting the services they need, be it distance, transportation or inadequate communication.

As Community Engagement and Partnership Coordinators – new positions created within the past year -- Dona Drew and Marissa Mielke have been working to bridge that divide.

“A lot of Veterans don’t get services at the VA or aren’t eligible, so we really need that community partnership.”Dona Drew, Community Engagement Partnership Coordinator

“I can go to them instead of them having to come to us,” said Mielke, whose focus is the Green Bay-Appleton area. “They don’t always know the services that are available or how to get in contact with somebody, so that’s a benefit of my position.”

Mielke said she has gotten good feedback as she forges connections with community groups in the 11-county area of northeastern Wisconsin.

“We continue to have a lot of conversations about services and how we can help,” she said, noting Veterans have said they appreciate having “someone they can call that can help figure out and direct (them) on where they need to go for a certain service.”

Drew said the response has been the same in the eight counties she serves in the Milwaukee area.

“They now have a name and a face for the VA,” she said. “I may not be able to help them with everything, but I can point them in the right direction.

“A lot of Veterans don’t get services at the VA or aren’t eligible, so we really need that community partnership.”

She said having those community groups take part in the summit will provide valuable insight.

Making changes

“We need them here because we need to hear about what they are doing in the community,” she said. “We can learn so much from our partners.”

McBride said he hopes the summit produces valuable methods for knocking down the barriers some Veterans face in getting care from VA.

“Our goal is that we pick up action items from this,” McBride said. “That’s always been the goal of these summits – to find a few areas that we can work on as a facility to make some improvements.

“A high-reliability organization fosters these conversations boldly and courageously so we can look at our own history and biases and make the changes necessary so we really do become a health-care system where all Veterans feel welcome and get the care they need.”

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