Mental Health at VA: Suicide Prevention Month

September is Suicide Prevention Month. At VAcareers, we’ll be raising awareness for mental health and suicide prevention in the Veteran community with new posts every Tuesday. Do you have a story to share? Let us know in the comments.

If you’re a Veteran in crisis or know a Veteran who is, click here or call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.

So far during Suicide Prevention month, we’ve discussed the Power of 1, and how a single act can make a difference in the life of a Veteran. We’ve touched on the risk factors for a Veteran in crisis. Today, we want to focus on a vital part of the success of suicide prevention at VA: the diligent, dedicated work of our health care providers.

VA mental health employees recognize the nuances of our mission “to care for him whom shall have borne the battle.” Military service, in war and peacetimes alike, is no doubt physically demanding—but it’s often the unseen marks that plague our Veterans most. PTSD is a reality for many, but mental illness can come in all forms.

For VA Psychologist Alicia, her work with Veterans with serious mental illness is a passion, and something she feels fortunate to be a part of. In the video below, she shares her experience working at VA. She explains a particular success story.

“We had somebody who came in and through the course of six months to a year…he got hooked in to the vocational rehab portion of our program. Today, he volunteers at our medical center. He greets other patients; he takes them from one place to another if they’re lost; he really feels fulfilled and like he’s giving back to other Veterans.”

Suicide is preventable. We see that in the seemingly small acts of one caring individual, and in the long-term, committed care of mental health professionals. Together, we can reach out to those in need, and we can work together to reduce the rate of Veteran suicide.

If you are a mental health care provider who feels the call to serve our Nation’s Veterans, we urge you to visit to explore opportunities.

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VA Leadership and the importance of iCARE

Last week I, along with others, briefed Robert McDonald, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, on recruitment marketing for Veterans Health Administration. It was a great opportunity and one I will likely never have again. I have served in my position promoting for six years and this was the first time I had ever meet a SECVA. He is the third Secretary since I have worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

I have heard many people, employees, and Veterans ask, what makes this guy different? I am not sure that I can address that question for everyone, but I can give my perspective. He is the first SECVA who has focused on recruiting by using his platform to promote the need to hire quality staff. He is in the news almost daily keeping stakeholders informed of progress, updates and needs for improvements. He is relaying the stories he hears from Veterans and employees nationwide – first hand and unfiltered. And, he has repeatedly apologized on behalf of VA to all Veterans.

Sec. Bob McDonald speaks with Dr. Chan Park and Dr. Atilio Barbeito about the Simulated Center at the Durham VAMC #ICARE (@deptvetaffairs Instagram)

Sec. Bob McDonald speaks with Dr. Chan Park and Dr. Atilio Barbeito about the Simulated Center at the Durham VAMC #ICARE (@deptvetaffairs Instagram)

For me, it is meaningful when the CEO admits that improvements are needed and that Veterans have lost trust in VA, and we have to work hard to earn it back. I know it will take time, but I am pleased to see a humble man leading the way. The first thing he said when we were about to present him with recruitment marketing concepts was, “I apologize upfront that you folks have to brief someone who grew up earning a living doing marketing.” Being able to put himself into our shoes lets me know that not only is he a Veteran, he has placed himself in every Veteran’s shoes to find the areas for improvement and act on them.

Inside VA, there is a buzz of iCARE, re-commitment and recruitment of quality staff at every level. Outside VA, there is still a lot of hurt and anger. I feel it is time for every VA employee to ensure that we are focused on serving the Veteran, first, last and always. I also feel that is time that we Veterans begin to heal and allow VA to improve and start earning trust back.

Whether you are an employee, a Veteran or both, if that trust is questioned, report it to a Patient Advocate or to a manager using the 3P’s- Polite, Professional, Persistent. Together we make a difference.

To be a part of serving our Veterans, apply today at

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Recognizing the Risk: Suicide Prevention Month

September is Suicide Prevention Month. At VAcareers, we’ll be raising awareness for mental health and suicide prevention in the Veteran community with new posts every Tuesday. Do you have a story to share? Let us know in the comments.

If you’re a Veteran in crisis or know a Veteran who is, click here or call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.

Tomorrow, September 10th, is World Suicide Prevention Day. During the entire month of September, the Department of Veterans Affairs and organizations nationwide are spreading the message that one small act can make a difference in the life of a Veteran or service member in crisis.

People experience emotional and mental health crises in response to a wide range of situations. For Veterans, these crises can be heightened by their experiences during military service. Do you feel comfortable recognizing signs of crisis? Warning signs include:

  • Hopelessness, feeling like there’s no way out
  • Anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness, or mood swings
  • Feeling like there’s no reason to live
  • Rage or anger
  • Engaging in risky activities without thinking
  • Increasing alcohol or drug abuse
  • Withdrawing from family and friends

The presence of the following signs requires immediate attention:

  • Thinking about hurting or killing yourself
  • Looking for ways to kill yourself
  • Talking about death, dying or suicide
  • Self-destructive behavior such as drug abuse, weapons, etc.
Create your own inspirational image with the Veterans Crisis Line graphic generator. Click here.

Click the image to create your own inspirational image with the Veterans Crisis Line graphic generator.

If you notice these warning signs, tell a Veteran about the Veterans Crisis Line, or make the call yourself. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at, or text to 838255 for free, confidential support, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

If you are a mental health professional with a passion for serving Veterans, please visit to learn more and apply.

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VA Nurse Saves a Life, Inspires Us All

This week, a particularly inspiring post caught our attention on Facebook. Kristopher Keukelaar, a registered nurse in the intensive care unit at the Syracuse VA Medical Center, was attending the New York State Fair with his son when he witnessed a man fall and go in to cardiac arrest. Immediately, and with the help of a nearby state trooper and other fair goers, Kristopher jumped in to action, administering CPR and using a defibrillator to ultimately revive the man and restart his heart.

When asked about the event, he commented, “It was a good team effort. There was an EMT there, and another nurse and another state trooper.”


While the act of saving a man’s life is truly incredible, Mr. Keukelaar’s attitude is also noteworthy, and a true model of the mindset of dedicated VA employees. The group at the fair was not the exact team you would find in a VA medical center, but the attitude of teamwork and patient-centered care is still front and center.

Thank you to Mr. Keukelaar for being an inspiration to us all as we live our mission as healthcare providers and Veteran caregivers. We appreciate your dedication to your work, even when you aren’t “on the clock.”

If you are a health care provider with a similar commitment to help those in need, and a desire to serve Veterans, learn more about careers at VA by visiting

(Source 1, Source 2)

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The Power of 1: Suicide Prevention Month

September is Suicide Prevention Month. At VAcareers, we’ll be raising awareness for mental health and suicide prevention in the Veteran community with new posts every Tuesday. Do you have a story to share? Let us know in the comments.

If you’re a Veteran in crisis or know a Veteran who is, click here or call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.

Mental illness is a topic that many of us feel uncomfortable discussing. Why? If you’ve never experienced it first hand or through a loved one, then you may feel unqualified to talk about it or to offer support. If you are intimately familiar with anxiety, depression, PTSD, or suicidal thoughts, then it’s often an issue that is too painful (or shameful) to bring up. In a word, suicide is a daunting subject—but avoiding it means missing an opportunity to save a life.

In an effort to make suicide prevention less intimidating and more effective, the Veterans Crisis Line is asking individuals and groups nationwide to consider how the power of a single act can make a difference in the life of a Veteran. One conversation with a Veteran about how he or she is doing can open the door to services and support.

For Veterans, connecting with support doesn’t have to be hard. The Veterans Crisis Line is a free, confidential resource that Veterans and their families and friends can access any day, anytime. Trained professionals—some of them Veterans themselves—are ready to listen, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Since launching in 2007, they have answered 1.25 million calls and made more than 39,000 lifesaving rescues.

No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. We are all part of the solution, and it starts with one small act. If you are a mental health care professional, with a passion for serving Veterans, please visit to learn more and apply.

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One Team, One Dream

Now more than ever, VA is committed to recruiting and hiring health care professionals who are aligned with VA’s institutional values: Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence. Taken together—I-CARE. 

Robert McDonald, the newly confirmed Secretary of Veterans Affairs, recently spoke at the American Legion convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. In his address to this vital veterans service organization, he spent time discussing the importance of recruiting doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care professionals who embody the I-CARE values. In his words, VA needs to operate cohesively as “One Team, One Dream” in delivering the best in care and services to Veterans.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

How does VA get to One Team? A first step is to embrace the attitude that “Recruiting isn’t just for HR.” Secretary McDonald describes this principle in action:

Here’s how I look at it—on one end of the spectrum is an Air Force Lieutenant about to graduate medical school who tells her father, “I wouldn’t want to work for VA—have you heard all the bad stories about it?” On the other end is Nancy, about to graduate medical school as a neurologist, who told me on the plane back from Memphis, “Practicing medicine at VA is my dream job.” The only difference between hiring a great doctor and being shorthanded is misunderstanding what serving Veterans is about.

Recruiting top candidates starts with an internal climate “where everyone understands what the right thing is—and then does it.” This proactive atmosphere is dependent upon current VA employees in hospitals and clinics nationwide, people who uphold the values that let Veterans know, when they walk through our doors, that we are “all in” to our mission, keeping Veterans at the forefront of everything we do.

If you are a health care professional with a passion to serve Veterans, please visit to learn more about how you can contribute to our mission and make a difference.

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Customer Outcomes = Veterans’ Outcomes

Earlier this week, we talked about the steps VA is taking to improve access to care for Veterans nationwide. One of the moves involves renewing our commitment to customer service. Last week, VA Secretary Robert McDonald stated that customer outcomes are Veterans’ outcomes, and “if we fail at serving Veterans, we fail.”

With that in mind, VA recognizes 10 key principles that will lead to a successful customer service experience. While these are specific to VA as an organization, most can be applied across professions and industries:

10 Key Principles that Lead to a Successful Customer Experience

  1. Leaders create and model an attitude of serving.
  2. Expectations of serving flow throughout the organization.
  3. Expectations of serving are measured throughout the organization.
  4. Courtesy, competence and quality are baseline.
  5. Every interaction leaves an impression – positive, negative or neutral.
  6. Hire for attitude; train for skills.
  7. Empower and support employees to do whatever it takes.
  8. Build every interaction and relationship around the patient.
  9. Service recovery; getting it VERY right the second time.
  10. Deliver care as a single, unified experience.

Taking time to connect as a team is vital to our success as an organization.

Customer service may seem easy and natural, but it’s a business process that requires hard work, competent leadership, and a dedication to seeing it through.

What do you think about customer service in health care? Do these principles resonate? In your own professional life, as employee or manager, have you had to uphold one or more of these principles in order to improve your customer service attitude? Let us know in the comments!

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Hospital at Home – An Innovative Health Care Model

In her new role, Dr. Carolyn Clancy has been communicating her experiences and observations as VA’s Interim Under Secretary for Health in weekly internal messages. Her memos underline one of the main goals we have at VA Careers, which is to focus on the important work VA does to advance health care in the U.S., and how vital our employees are to that mission. Read her latest message below:

Every day in the VA health care system, our dedicated employees identify new approaches to addressing issues that stand in the way of providing the best possible care to Veterans. In fact, many of them actively seek out these innovations in the name of Veteran-focused care.

The late Dr. Scott Mader was one such employee. He had a passion for working with Veterans and the committed staff at the Portland VA Medical Center, where he served as an administrator, researcher and clinician before succumbing to cancer last year. Under the leadership of Dr. Mader, Portland became the first VA facility to try out a pioneering health care delivery model called Hospital at Home, which allows patients who need acute hospital-level care to receive that care in their own homes.

Hospital at Home is a modern-day version of the house call. In addition to daily in-home visits from physicians and nurses, patients admitted to Hospital at Home can call providers any time, day or night, and they have access to laboratory and other needed services in the home setting. If you’ve ever been hospitalized, you likely would have preferred to receive treatment in the comfort and familiarity of your home, if that had been an option. Dr. Mader knew most of his patients would have agreed, so he was eager to have the Portland VAMC participate with several other clinical sites in a national demonstration study led by Dr. Bruce Leff, who developed the Hospital at Home model at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. The study found that the in-home model met quality standards at rates similar to the acute hospital. Costs were also lower, and patient satisfaction was higher.

More than a decade later, a modified version of the model from the study is still in use at the Portland VAMC. The model has also been adopted at numerous other VA sites, such as the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, and most notably the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, where it was launched after the New Orleans VA Medical Center was flooded and rendered inoperable in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Hospital at Home model is expected to continue spreading throughout the VA health care system. It is exactly the kind of innovative approach to delivering health care that will help us achieve positive outcomes for Veterans, one Veteran at a time.


clancymdCarolyn Clancy, M.D., was named Interim Under Secretary for Health for the Department of Veterans Affairs, on July 2, 2014. As Interim Under Secretary for Health, Dr. Clancy oversees the health care needs of millions of Veterans enrolled in VHA, the United States’ largest integrated health care system, with more than 1700 sites, including hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, and Readjustment Counseling Centers. Dr. Clancy, a general internist and health services researcher, is a graduate of Boston College and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

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4 Things VA is Doing Right Now to Improve Access to Care

While we pride ourselves on the high quality of care that Veterans receive at VA, we are always striving for ways to improve on a national scale. Read on for the top things VA is doing now to improve access for Veterans everywhere.


1. Greeters Help Patients, Prevent Delays in Care

As a way of improving the patient experience and promoting a culture of service, an increasing number of VA facilities are using employees and volunteers to greet Veterans and actively watch for potential delays in a Veteran’s care.

Rick Williams, a Marine Corps and Army Veteran, greets and assists Veterans at the VA Butler Healthcare Center. Here, he shares how his role as an Information Specialist makes a difference:

“I feel my greatest contribution to VA Butler is giving respect, care, and a voice for our fellow Veterans. I ensure that they check in and are escorted to their appointments in a timely manner. Most of all, I ensure that they have a positive and fun experience while at VA Butler Healthcare Center.”

2. Put the Customer First, Always

During the AMVETS National Conference, VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald emphasized the role of VA as a customer-service organization. He said:

“At VA, we are going to judge the success of our individual and collective efforts against a single metric – customer outcomes, Veterans’ outcomes.”

Creating and sustaining a culture of service is a daunting task. It requires strong, clear leadership, specific and personalized plans, communication and measurement that makes sense, and a shared commitment throughout the organization.

3. Report Progress, Track Results

VA is posting wait-time data updates on a bi-monthly basis to show our progress on our efforts to accelerate access to quality health care for Veterans who have been waiting for appointments.

On August 14, 2014, VA posted the latest data update on the VA Access Audit page.

4. Review and Renew

In Phoenix, Secretary McDonald announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs has initiated an independent, nation-wide review of all scheduling practices at VA medical facilities. In his first trip as Secretary, McDonald also announced a series of additional actions to improve Veterans’ access to timely, quality health care following a series of meetings with Veterans and employees at the Phoenix VA Health Care System. Read more.

(The above information was repurposed from The Access Advisor newsletter, produced for VHA employees by the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Operations and Management and VHA Office of Communications.)

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Did you hear who visited the Palo Alto VA yesterday?

On Thursday, August 21, Apple CEO Tim Cook paid a visit to the Palo Alto VA hospital. He came for a check-up—not for himself, but to see first hand the ways in which VA physicians and health care professionals are using his company’s technology to improve and advance care for Veterans. He even tweeted about it!


Apple CEO Tim Cook talks with VA employees in Palo Alto

Since 2013, the Palo Alto hospital and other VA facilities nationwide have rolled out iPad programs and mobile apps to aid the Veteran patient experience from initial scheduling through the conclusion of the appointment. With this type of technology, clinicians are able to write progress notes, enter orders, and complete other clinical tasks quickly and efficiently, allowing for more time for meaningful interaction with Veteran patients.

The iPad program is part of a greater commitment to leverage the power of mobile technology and builds on the success of programs including My HealtheVet and VA Blue Button. VA, and specifically the initiatives and pilot programs within Mobile Health, is dedicated to improving the health of Veterans by providing technologies that expand clinical care beyond the traditional office visit.

To learn more about the iPad program, visit VA Mobile Health.

If you are a health care provider and you’re interested in learning how you can contribute your skills and innovative thinking to advance Veteran care, visit

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