Lauren’s Story, Part 3: The Importance of a Social Worker

Written by: Lauren – Guest Blogger sharing her perspective as a VA employee and patient during her second pregnancy.

I have reached a milestone! I am now in the second trimester, and even showing a little “baby bump.”


This week I wanted to highlight the Women Veterans Health Clinic social worker. Her name is Shari, and she is a licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW). She is responsible for telecase management with our female Veterans at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center. So when my pregnancy tests were positive, my primary care provider assigned her to me to kind of act like a “liaison” between myself and the VA. She called me within the first week of my positive results and asked me basic questions about my health and what resources I needed. She called me again this week and told me she was mailing me a great big pregnancy information book and we continued to talk about how I am feeling, anything I need, etc.

I explained to her about my back pain, how my ultrasound went, my confirmed due date and things of that nature. But I also wanted to try and figure out if I could have a licensed doula be involved in my care.

A doula comes from ancient Greek where it means “a woman who serves”, and now is used as a term for a licensed and trained professional who provides emotional support and information to woman before, during and after birth. Basically kind of like a labor coach. I plan on having a natural birth, so having all of the support I can get would be very helpful. Read more about doulas here.

Shari told me she was going to look into it and get back to me. It is really helpful having a social worker. Not only does it help to have someone to talk to, but it helps having someone who can also put you in touch with the right resources when you need them.

March was actually National Social Worker Month, and if you want to learn more about what social workers do and why they are so important to the VA, click here.

About Lauren

lauren_w Lauren is a Navy Veteran and current Public Affairs Specialist at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center in West Virginia. Throughout her second pregnancy, she will be sharing her thoughts and experiences as a patient at VA. We are all excited to follow her on this healthcare journey!

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Pay Equality: Know Your Worth

After I retired from the US Army, I went shopping for jobs with the quest of earning at least what the Army was paying me. I was able to achieve that goal. I later transitioned to a position as a hiring manager and COO of a staffing company where I was responsible for setting pay scales, ranges and managing budgets. I learned a lot about compensation in metro and regional areas, rural vs. urban salaries and cost of living. Then I learned something else. Women asked for less than men, almost every time.

Most of the time, men wanted too much, women asked for too little. I was shocked by this realization and, more than once, started an employee off at a higher rate than requested.


Pay inequality could be described as self-inflicted. In Dallas during the mid-2000s, the phrase was “$30 thousandairs.” It seemed that many college educated 20-30 year olds expected to be paid about $35,000 annually. Of course the 40+ crowd expected $50K+. Know your value…no more, no less was the “rule.”

Information is power. Know what you are worth and what others are being paid. Don’t sell yourself short, but also don’t expect to be offered more than you ask for, nor more than your position is worth to the company. All too often employees become disgruntled because they want a raise. But the truth may be that the position or skill doesn’t warrant a higher pay scale. If you need more pay, increase your level of skill, knowledge or responsibility in order to move up the pay scale.

Lastly is the “Art of Negotiation.” Never be the first to extend an offer, that is the employer’s role. For the one hiring manager that you may offend, the rest will tell you what the pay range is. Most quality managers do not want you being disappointed to find out that you signed on for less than others in your position and many will not pay you more than others are making to not cause discord in the ranks. So, be realistic and negotiate your best deal. Be sure to weigh the value of insurance, days off, and other benefits that are not taxed. Sometimes, less is more.

To learn about the Presidential Proclamation declaring April 8th National Equal Pay Day, click here.

Be sure to check us out at to learn more about pay ranges at VA.

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Lauren’s Story, Part 2: In Alignment

Written by: Lauren – Guest Blogger sharing her perspective as a VA employee and patient during her second pregnancy.

Hello again, and thank you for the great feedback from my first post. I had my first ultrasound this past Monday and it was absolutely amazing. Look at the little peanut!


The ultrasound confirmed that I am 10 weeks pregnant and due October 23. Of course I am still having a lot of common symptoms such as:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Moodiness
  • Back Pain

My boss and coworkers have been very understanding and supportive and luckily, there are ways to manage these symptoms. Healthy snacks, crackers and ginger ale can help with nausea, taking a nap every afternoon on my couch helps with fatigue, the moodiness you will just have to get used to, but the solution for back pain? You can see a licensed VA Chiropractor!

I have been seeing the Martinsburg VA Medical Center chiropractor, Dr. Shawn Neff for more than a year, and he has always been amazing at what he does. He is board-certified in chiropractic orthopedics and a Fellow of the Academy of Chiropractic Orthopedists and has been at the medical center since 2007.

At my appointment last week I told him I was pregnant, and explained some of the back pain I had during my first pregnancy and the pain I have now. He agreed that I should see him every month, and as my belly gets bigger and bigger he will use special techniques to keep me comfortable but also assure my spine is properly aligned. Sometimes having chiropractic care can help your hips, back, and pelvis be better prepared for labor.

Also it is a “standard operating procedure” that during pregnancy you should sleep on your left side, and sleeping in the same position for nine months can be a little hard on the back. So he suggested a body pillow or some sort of contouring pillow to put between my knees to help align my spine at night.

Thank you for the great advice, Dr. Neff!

Interested in learning about how you can provide care to Veterans of all shapes, sizes, ages, and backgrounds? Visit today!

About Lauren

lauren_wLauren is a Navy Veteran and current Public Affairs Specialist at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center in West Virginia. Throughout her second pregnancy, she will be sharing her thoughts and experiences as a patient at VA. We are all
excited to follow her on this healthcare journey!

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Happy Doctors’ Day – Brian’s Story

Sunday, March 30th marks National Doctors’ Day—a time when we recognize physicians, their work, and their contributions to the health care community. We are grateful for the more than 14,000 physicians who work at VA and are proud to have provided medical training to over half of the practicing physicians in the U.S.! 

Today, we are highlighting the inspiring story of Dr. Brian Hayes, a Veteran and VA physician with a passion for serving Veterans.

Meet Brian.

Dr. Brian Hayes is the Associate Chief of Staff for the VA Northern California Health Care System (VANCHCS). He provides medical expertise to the VA’s integrated health care delivery system, which offers a comprehensive array of medical, surgical, rehabilitative, mental health and extended care to Veterans in northern California. He is also the physician liaison to David Grant Medical Center.


Dr. Hayes’ prestigious career had humble beginnings. He grew up as an Army brat, one of ten children to loving parents who met in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father served for 29 years in the Army and Brian credits his parents for embedding in him the importance of a life of service and core values of Faith, Family and Profession, in that order. Growing up in a large family, he learned early not to make money his goal in life. With a solid foundation behind him and the help of an ROTC Scholarship, he went to college and on to medical school.

The eight-year commitment to the military fit in well with Brian’s desire to serve. For the next fourteen years, he served in various leadership positions with the US Air Force around the world at the Flight, Squadron, and Group levels. In 2009, Dr. Hayes was selected to command the Air Force’s Flagship Medical Center, David Grant Medical Center. He retired from the Air Force in 2012 at the rank of Colonel after twenty-two years of honorable service.

As Brian neared the end of his military career, he had a sense that he wanted to take care of those with whom he shared active duty. “I felt deeply that my mission was to serve my wounded brothers and sisters. I wanted to give them the best care anywhere and have fun doing it!”

Brian discovered that a move to VA offered many benefits for Physicians that fit in perfectly with his work/life balance, including almost a month of leave every year. He joined a team that allows him to practice quality medicine while providing care for the whole veteran in a technologically advanced environment. VA has the best electronic medical records in the nation, which increases the quality of care, and with telemedicine and e-consults, he finds it helpful to get professional feedback from his colleagues in real-time.

If you haven’t already noticed, Brian has a great passion for Veterans, and feels a connection with his band of brothers and sisters. “If I’ve had a long day, and there is a Veteran waiting to see me, I remind myself of the debt of gratitude I owe them and how, in some small way, I can repay it by getting them to their optimal health. The Veterans we serve – they motivate me – they have walked on the moon, been Presidents of the United States, served in Congress, been CEOs – it’s important to keep Veterans serving so everyone can see the quality that Veterans bring to the workforce and this country.”

Brian found a perfect fit for him as a Physician with VA. He encourages anyone yearning to live a fulfilling life with a foundation of service to consider a career at VA. “One of the greatest gifts our Veteran service organizations can give our Veterans is to guide them to their educational benefits and find a job they love so they can continue to inspire Americans throughout the ages.”

Dr. Hayes earned a Masters of Public Health Degree from Harvard University and a Masters of Strategic Studies from the Air Force’s Air University. He completed residencies in Aerospace Medicine and General Preventive Medicine & Public Health, and was board certified in both specialties by the American Board of Preventive Medicine.  He is married with four children and a dog named Jake. Brian’s contributions are inspiring, but he would say it’s just his way to show his gratitude for our Nation’s treasures, our Veterans.

If you’re interested in a career as a physician at VA, visit to learn more.

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Lauren’s Story: VA Health Care for Pregnant Veterans

Everybody has a story. Though it may seem ordinary to some, each person’s story is unique and important in the tapestry of life. We will be bringing you a series of stories from people who care for Veterans across our Nation.

Hello! My name is Lauren Winebrenner and I am a Navy Veteran and a Public Affairs Specialist at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center (VAMC). I started my VA career as a Pathways Student Intern, and was fortunate enough to have that internship turn into a full time position after I graduated from college in 2013.


My husband and I moved to Martinsburg, W.Va. with our son in 2011, and I was using my GI Bill to attend Shepherd University. On my first day of class, I met a woman named Heather who is a Marine Veteran (and now my best friend) and she told me I should be seen at our local VA Women Veterans Health Clinic. I had no idea that I would be eligible or that it was so easy to enroll! That seems to be a recurring theme with the younger generation of Veterans and VA. Sometimes, we need to hear firsthand from someone else about the benefits and services that VA offers. That is why I wanted to write this blog, and hopefully help another female Veteran who might not know about everything VA does for our female Veterans.

On February 13, 2014 I got the best Valentine’s Day present ever—I learned I was pregnant with my second child! I immediately knew I had to tell my doctor at the Women’s Health Clinic, Dr. Habte; so I sent her a Secure Message using My HealtheVet, and asked if I could get blood work done to confirm the pregnancy. The nurse told me I could come in first thing and have the blood work done at the lab. Once the results were confirmed, I received a congratulatory secure message from the nurse, as well as a personal phone call from my doctor. They told me the next step was for them to put in the referral to an outside provider which would handle my obstetrics (OB) care. The process and paperwork was handled by the Non-VA Care Coordination Program and was very easy to accomplish. I chose a midwife group based out of Martinsburg, and VA sent me all the paperwork I needed to take to them on my first appointment. It is convenient because I will see the midwives for all my OB care; however I can still have my prescriptions and lab work done at VA.

So I began counting down the days until my first appointment! In the meantime, I had no idea that VA would assign me to the Women Veterans Health Clinic Social Worker, who was so sweet when she called. She will basically call me every once in a while and ask me how I am doing, if I need anything, if I want any educational materials or support and just have someone to talk to if I need it. I thought that was very sweet and a really good benefit to have, because pregnancy can be a very uncomfortable and BUMP-y road (get it?).

All in all, I was very surprised by how involved VA would still  throughout my pregnancy. All of my maternity care and seven days of newborn care will be covered by VA, and I will still have my doctor, care team and the social worker to look after me and be there if I need it. I think it is a great arrangement, and I am very excited to take this journey with my growing family and VA. Will you join me?

About Lauren:

lauren_wLauren is a Navy Veteran and current Public Affairs Specialist at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center in West Virginia. Throughout her second pregnancy, she will be sharing her thoughts and experiences as a patient at VA. We are all excited to follow her on this healthcare journey!

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Why Do You Need a Veteran?

Last week, I stepped out of my normal routine and attended an in-person class with FEMA on Continuity of Operations. This led me to relying on my GPS and its traffic feature to avoid rush hour congestion during the adjusted travel times. I found myself stuck on Decatur St. in New Orleans. I mean stuck—down to one lane of cars, people on bikes buzzing by, and nobody moving.

Now, this may be a regular occurrence for many, but being a small town kid, I adjust my hours and route to avoid traffic rush hours. Having no intentions of being late for my class, I waited patiently for about 5 minutes, took a look around and identified that no one was moving forward during the green lights. So, I got out of the car and took a stroll up to the light. I then waved the next few drivers through the light. Getting back into my car, I drove through the intersection only to be stopped again. I then noticed the construction crew that had shut down the entire road. They had blocked up one lane originally, but were now taking rush hour to unload a crane and blocked the entire road access.

Like any good American, I first called 911 and told them that a safety hazard existed due to the blocked intersection and hoped they would be fined. I then proceeded as the new, self-appointed traffic monitor the remainder of the way down Decatur—ignoring the lights and releasing the flow of traffic. I was 15 minutes early to class.


Ok, I know there are many ways you could look at this story. What a jerk, calling 911! You broke the law, you’re impatient; or way to take charge, to “make it happen,” the list can go on.

When a company shuts down because of an unplanned obstacle, it loses money. It may cause a safety concern, cost employees their anticipated paychecks, or lose business from unsatisfied customers. Veterans have been trained and are accustomed to crisis situations, working in changing environments, and are comfortable with overcoming obstacles. My motivation that morning was to be on time for work/class. That’s the thing about Veterans. If it’s within our power to be on time, on budget and on task, then we will be. It’s easy to sit and do nothing and accept being late or to be excused by the all too common, traffic excuse. But really, don’t you want someone on your team who has learned to overcome the traffic excuse to be working for you?

Finally, that leads me to a final point. As Veterans, we expect the same dedication from others. Many Veterans visit Veterans Health Administration daily and leave satisfied, happy and well taken care of. When there is an area for improvement, a Veteran will often speak up and voice that concern. That is why we need the Best of the Best providers serving our Veterans.

If you have a heart for Veterans, and are at the top of your game, then APPLY today or contact a recruiter nearest you.

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Education Revisited: Choosing a “Good Fit” Program with the GI Bill Comparison Tool

Our Tuesday blog post addressing the importance of education generated so many great comments and such debate on Facebook that I wanted to continue the conversation. A topic that comes up often when we talk about education, but more specifically as it relates to Veterans, is the difference between for-profit higher education and traditional brick-and-mortar institutions.

Traditional colleges have long been recognized as the example of quality education and the only source for true higher learning. On the other hand, online programs and for-profit schools have grown and greatly improved their reputation. An article put out this month by Inside Higher Ed points out the growing resources that measure effectiveness of the GI Bill funds at colleges nationwide and in that, highlights data that could help Veterans in choosing the right program for them.

The article quotes D. Wayne Robinson, president of Student Veterans of America: “This GI Bill comparison tool is a step toward helping veterans use their federal benefits in a smarter, more economical way.”

For example, let’s look at Liberty University vs. University of Maryland. Liberty has a staggering 45.7% stated graduation rate to UM’s 4.3%. When you start to compare the different schools and total volume and type of student, traditional vs. online, you will mainly note that Public schools have not made much progress in online offerings for adults, including Veterans.

Now, there are many reasons ranging from political to personal for why some institutions see more GI Bill funds than others. Quite frankly, education is an area for arrogance. For those with a degree, it means a lot more than to those that do not have one. Those who attended a traditional college feel that theirs is a superior learning process to online. To those who attended as adults, that is better than fresh out of high school.

Do your research - affordability, education quality, and "fit" are all important factors in choosing a program that is right for you.

As knowledge seekers, we need to think more about fit and life-long learning. The education accreditation associations are the regulating authorities that ensure quality education. Be sure your school is accredited, be comfortable with the school’s reputation and seek programs that you can complete and from which you can learn. There are quality for profits and substandard public schools. Be a wise consumer and student and always be improving experience, skills and education.

To learn more about your options as a student, click here to start utilizing the GI Bill comparison tool.

Explore career opportunities and apply for positions in healthcare at VA Careers.

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The Value of a College Degree

Degree + Experience is a formula for career success

Last year I addressed Education vs. Experience in today’s career market. Since that time, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Management from Grand Canyon University. I enrolled in July 2011 and completed my degree in August 2013. During that time, my wife also completed a degree at Liberty University—a Bachelor’s degree added to her two previously earned Associate’s degrees. We completed different degrees through online programs that we selected for reasons including accreditation, financial investment, reputation and online support. A terrific resource for evaluation is the GI Bill Comparison Tool.

My wife and I both had similar experiences, though of course we will argue who had the easiest time and which program was better. While she is obviously smarter than I am, I think I had an easier time since I chose an area of study in which I had years of experience, so most of the information was familiar to me. She studied in a new area for her, and learned more about labor relations than I think she wanted to. Finally, both in our late 40s, we hung our degrees on the wall side by side. That was cool.

Since graduation, I have stayed in my current position and am debating my next educational experience. While I am no longer the least educated person in my office, most of my peers and leaders have advanced degrees. I learned a lot about project management and research, and I still hate citing references. But I have learned the value of scholarly references to promote an idea or project. I think my contracting officer appreciates that I now know more of the formalities of his job than previously. But mostly, I think I learned what is actually taught in college, how my co-workers have been trained to think critically and apply research. I feel I have more understanding of both worlds now, than of just one.

My wife graduated and learned that recent grads and recent experience are two different things and that new careers can be challenging to start. With limited need to fill entry level HR positions in our area, she began to volunteer and learned of a Masters in Social Work program at Louisiana State University that will allow her to intern two days a week and attend on campus classes two days a week. Upon successful completion, she will have the opportunity to begin a career in Social Work while having her tuition reimbursed for a work commitment. She is very excited to begin something so close to her heart and fulfill her goal of serving others.

Why am I sharing this? The trend today is that one has better opportunities for advancement and promotion with both experience and education combined. A recent survey by Pew Research Center found there is a rising earnings disparity between those with and without a College Degree. You will note that from 1979-1995 a mere 24-25% of young adults had a Bachelor’s degree or more; today that number has increased to 34% and climbing.

In addition to increased competition, the value of a high school education solely has a declining value. People are more likely to live in poverty with a high school diploma versus a college degree. A high school diploma is no longer a ticket to success, the bar has been raised.

Now for the good news!! The biggest regret of college graduates is failure to “Gain more work experience”—as Veterans, we got this!


Several intangibles the military gives us are experiences in leadership, teamwork, ethics, perseverance, problem-solving, etc. No matter our job in the military, we may or may not gain actual job skills in our new career goals, but we do bring discipline to study harder (#2) to college. We also now know that we have to start “Looking for work sooner” and we have/had time to “choose our major.” As for experience, we know that we can gain that “recent” experience through a current job, volunteering, part-time positions, etc.

With these resources in our tool belts, Veterans are well prepared to excel in the private sector. Many of us have or will be hired into positions without a degree, but those tides are changing. I encourage us all to use the GI Bill we earned and the tools at our disposal such as Vet Success, VA for Vets, and the VA Careers Blog that offers career advice for all. Check out “A Veterans approach to a job search”.

Think College, Think Healthcare, Think VA!

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A Visit to VA as a Patient

Last week, VA observed a “National Salute to Veteran Patients.” The program, which takes place every year around February 14th, provides the community with an opportunity to say Thank You to Veterans and raises awareness for volunteering at VA. This week always serves as a reminder that one of the great things about my job is I am not only an employee, but I am a patient. That allows me to be a “Secret Shopper” of sorts. I thought I would share some recent experiences.

A while ago, I tweeted that the waiting room was standing room only. Within minutes, staff had brought additional chairs for those needing them and the crowd began to disperse.

"Secret Shopper" live tweeting the action


Then, my neck began hurting again and I needed a Physical Therapy follow-up. I logged onto and used Secure Messaging to request an appointment with VA New Orleans Rehab. The next day, one of the MDs returned my message that a Rep would contact me for an appointment. I got a call the very next day and was able to schedule an appointment for one week later. I was super excited to see how great this worked.

The day of my appointment, I arrived at 0845 for my 0930. As I entered the Check-in line, a VA Staff member motioned me over to the new Vet Link Check in Kiosk. Within seconds, I was checked in and directed to the Physical Therapy room.

Greeted by a provider, he took my check in slip and proceeded to fill out a paper to add my name and last four. He acknowledged that they have not worked out all the bugs yet, but the technology is a great improvement. I was then directed to the waiting area where I found a cart of hot coffee. I was called in and spoke to a resident/intern who had already reviewed my file history. Having been updated of my need from the secure message I had sent previously, he alerted the Therapist that I was ready to be seen. A few short tests later, I was given a new authorization to continue with my needed physical therapy. By 0951, my visit was complete and I headed back to work.

Friendly faces and professional care make a difference to a patient.

I am very excited as I write this blog post to share with you not only as a patient and employee, but as a Recruiter. It is this type technology, efficiency and patient satisfaction that leads to a rewarding career. The staff members I met that day were happy, professional and caring; I hope they felt the same about me.

So if you would like to be a part of continuing to improve care for Veterans, then visit and apply TODAY!

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This Valentine’s Day, Take Care of Your Heart

It makes sense that Valentine’s Day falls in the month of February since February is designated as American Heart Month. What better time than now to bring awareness of heart health to all, especially women and especially women Veterans?

Most of us are aware that heart disease is a major cause of death for men, but did you know that is the number one killer of women? This is the time, the day, the month for no excuses. Women tend to take care of everyone else in their lives before themselves. So women – today is the day to make a doctor’s appointment for a physical, get your cholesterol and risk factors checked. Today is the day to do it for yourself, your loved ones, your friends.


Show yourself some love this Valentine's Day

Of all women under VA care, almost one-third have risk factors for heart disease. VA’s Women’s Health Services office, in collaboration with the American Heart Association (AHA), is bringing awareness and knowledge of heart disease to women Veterans and those who care for them. VA is encouraging everyone, and bringing a special awareness to all women Veterans to live a heart-healthy lifestyle by following these tips: (click links)

• Be physically active

• Reduce your stress

• Balanced diet and improving your diet

• Quitting smoking, or call 1-855-QUIT-VET and let VA help you quit.

• Reducing your alcohol consumption

Spread the word to all women you know – this is the month to do it – for heart awareness month.  And stay heart-healthy!

Learn more at

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