VA Careers Supports Breast Cancer Awareness Month

This October, VA is proud to participate in National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is the second most common kind of cancer in women. About 1 in 8 women born today in the United States will get breast cancer at some point. This makes breast cancer a serious concern for women Veterans.

According to Dr. Sally Haskell, Deputy Chief Consultant and Director, Comprehensive Women’s Health, “The good news is that localized breast cancer has a 99 percent survival rate if detected early, and VA leads the nation’s health care systems in providing mammograms to those who need them.”

 Breast-Cancer-Screening

VA encourages all women between ages 50 and 75 to get mammograms every two years. VA encourages all women to talk with their provider about breast health and when your health care provider recommends a mammogram outside of that age range — VA will provide it.

Breast cancer risk varies among women. VA care teams help determine when patients should start receiving mammograms and how to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.

Resources

All VA medical centers have a Women Veterans Program Manager to help women Veterans access VA benefits and health care services.

Women Veterans can call 1-855-VA-WOMEN (1-855-829-6636) to ask questions about available VA services and resources. Want to know more? Check out VA’s dedicated resources for women Veterans: Women Veterans Call Center

Additional resources on Breast Cancer Prevention:

If you are a health care professional who is interested in providing care for Veterans and would like to explore opportunities working with the women Veteran population, visit vacareers.va.gov to learn more.

(Source)

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Peer Support Specialists Save Lives: Suicide Prevention Month

Every Tuesday in September, we focused on raising awareness for mental health and suicide prevention in the Veteran community in honor of Suicide Prevention Month. For our final post in this series, we are featuring an article that first appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of VAnguard, a VA publication focused on the contributions of employees. The story follows the work of VA Peer Support Specialists, a vital asset to the patient-centered care team. Read on to learn more.

Sarah Oury is a former Army captain who now works as a peer support specialist at the San Diego VA. In her own words, her primary job is to simply share her personal story with her clients. “It can be very therapeutic for them, and for you,” she observed. “Doing this job helps you work on your own self-recovery. Because recovery is never a done deal. It’s always an ongoing process. I’m still mending some of my own relationships.”

There are 11 peer support specialists at San Diego and roughly 800 at VA sites nationwide. They represent VA’s newest and perhaps most promising strategy to get Veterans struggling with mental issues to come in for help.

Peer Support Specialist Sarah Oury (Right) shares a story with Veteran Naomi Winley at the San Diego VA. Photo by Christopher Menzie, San Diego VA

Peer Support Specialist Sarah Oury (Right) shares a story with Veteran Naomi Winley at the San Diego VA. Photo by Christopher Menzie, San Diego VA

“Peer support specialists are unique, because they’re the only health care providers in VA who are trained to use their own life experiences to help their clients,” explained Dr. Christine Rufener, a staff psychologist who runs the peer support program at San Diego. “As a psychologist, I’m not able to do that because of ethical issues related to doctor-client boundaries.

“Your peer support specialist,” she added, “is someone who’s made it to the other side. They’ve recovered from their own mental health challenges, so they’re in a position to instill hope.”

‘Hope’ is something Phil Clough is just now beginning to get a grip on. The Navy Veteran was the victim of military sexual trauma back in the 1980s, and spent years drinking and drugging to numb the pain.

“When I came to the VA for help, I was shattered,” he said. “I was suicidal. I was homicidal. I had a lot of anger.”

But then a peer support specialist named Eric showed up at his side.

“When I first met Eric, we talked for about an hour,” Clough said. “When I come to the VA now, the first person I ask for is Eric.”

The Navy Veteran said he now has three peer support specialists who are helping him stay on course during his treatment program at the VA.

“They did the one thing that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t do. They put me back together. I still have a long way to go. I’m damaged. But if I need them I know they’ll always be there for me.”

And when you’re a peer support specialist, ‘being there’ sometimes involves more than just showing up for work at the office.

“In some cases I’ll actually go out to the Veteran’s house,” said Oury. “Sometimes, when you’re that depressed, you can’t even get out of bed. So you certainly can’t get yourself in to the VA. Someone needs to come to you. If that’s what it takes, that’s what I’ll do.”

Rufener said this kind of dedication, however, can be a double-edged sword. “These are highly motivated people,” she observed. “They got the help they needed from VA, and now they’re very motivated to help other Veterans. But this is not easy work. It can be stressful, which is why we continue to support them.” (Source, Written by Tom Cramer)

If you are a mental health professional interested in serving Veterans, visit VAcareers.va.gov to learn more about mental health careers, view openings in your area, or talk directly to a recruiter.

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Lauren’s Story, Part 11: Counting Down the Days

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

Well, I had my final ultrasound this past Thursday, and it seems as if Baby Hunter is going to follow in the footsteps of his brother and be another “big baby” and have lots of hair! I am at peace with this, because I believe that my body was able to have a large baby once, and it can do it again!

Here is a picture of me and my first son…can’t wait to capture this moment with baby Hunter!

Here is a picture of me and my first son…can’t wait to capture this moment with baby Hunter!

There have been a lot of things on my mind these past few weeks such as: back pain, nervousness, “false” labor, more back pain and the overall feeling of just wanting my little man to be here! I know I am in the final weeks, but these final weeks seem to be taking forever. Which I am pretty sure is normal in pregnancy.

All in all, once again I have to say I have had an amazing support system. Not just with family and friends but also with my VA care team and fellow staff members. My VA chiropractor has been so patient and kind with me, and I feel like I have greatly benefited from having chiropractic care during this pregnancy. My VA social worker still calls and is providing me with great information about breastfeeding and what my post-partum care will be like. My VA primary care provider has been having phone appointments with me about different birth control options, and they are all so excited for me and want to see pictures of the baby once he is born.

It is great to know they have still been so actively caring and involved during this process. I also have to say my fellow VA employees have been supportive, awesome and caring as well.

With the support of my family, my VA family, my midwives and my doula I feel 100% ready to have this baby and become a mommy of two. I just need to be patient for another few weeks until baby Hunter decides he is ready! Thank you all for reading. I will do another post once I return from maternity leave sometime in December.

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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To College or Not to College

That is the big question. Do you need college? Maybe not, there are programs such as battlefieldstooilfields.com, and training for welders, auto technicians and other trade workers, all of which one can use the GI Bill for. Maybe one has experience gained from on-the-job training (OJT) or military training. There are many career choices that do not require college today.

A college education is an investment in your future, and for future generations.

A college education is an investment in your future, and for future generations.

With that said, many of those jobs are physical and labor intensive—often great for young adults in their prime and good health. But what happens when an injury or illness impacts your ability to hold a weld line in 90-degree weather? Or if you are like me, you spent your younger years abusing your body and the wear and tear has caught up to you. I was watching a program on TV last week that featured Fort Bragg’s Airborne training. The instructor informed the guest that the equipment for a 150 lb. person, would likely be about 250 lbs. What long term impact would that have on a hard working Veteran? And this is just one small example of the ongoing abuse Veterans inflict upon our minds and bodies.

So approaching 50 now, I saw three options for myself. Get a degree that allows me to have a well-paying office job, start my own business or win the lottery. I was fortunate—I had previous experience that allowed me to get hired into a Program Manager position without a degree. However, seeing the light, I enrolled in college and completed a Bachelor’s Degree as I never wanted to be in the position of seeking a career without one again. It was tough. I have now realized that if I desire to remain competitive with my peers and grow, I will likely need to pursue a Masters as well.

I am sharing this with fellow Veterans as I am seeing a common trend. Either we get to college or we do not. If we do not, it may be because we do not believe in college education the same as private sector. It may be we are fearful of sitting in class with non-Veterans. We may disagree with some academic teachings that place science higher than all else. Or it may be that we are just lazy.

I love Clint Eastwood, but when Gunny was asked what college he went to and he replied “Heartbreak Ridge,” he did no soldier a favor. While I value my military experience over college and any other position I have held, I believed those words for decades and that attitude has limited many a Veteran since.

Another dilemma I have seen many struggle with is online vs. on-campus education. No matter your thought on it, many Veterans want one on-campus class only to be able to receive the full the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). Online only cuts in half the BAH and many forego even starting, “hoping” for a better time to start on-campus classes. If you want to be on-campus, do it now. If that does not work for you, then online-only is fine, and the BAH is an added benefit that will help. I attended college online full-time with a full-time job and a wife and kids, etc. There are no more excuses, pick your degree, your school, and get that degree. You may be surprised how much you learn about yourself and your interests. I find myself more excited to learn now than I was before.

Lastly, we need Veterans to be the next leaders of America. Politicians, CEOs, Hiring Managers. Just as the World War II Veterans changed America with the GI Bill, we owe it to our future Veterans to pave the way before them to make their transition that much smoother than ours.

Ruck up, and get/stay in college!

PS: Before you give your future to your kids, consider this.

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Team Huddles: Not Just for Football

As you’re watching your favorite football team play this season, take a moment to recognize how important huddles are to winning a game. When it comes to efficiency and teamwork, football players offer VA employees a valuable lesson: A quick huddle can ensure everyone is on the same page.

huddle

At the VA North Platte Outpatient Clinic (pictured) daily morning huddles include all clinic staff members and focus on reviewing the day’s schedule. It’s a time when the team can meet together and accomplish a lot in a short period of time.

Barbara J. Wenz, Nurse Manager at the clinic where this team approach is utilized explains, “The morning huddle takes no more than 3-4 minutes. All schedules are reviewed. It is clarified who is very booked, who may have more room in their schedule and who is on the road seeing patients, etc. As a result of this huddle, there is widespread knowledge of clinic capacity that day. This assists all members of the team to be aware of what capabilities there are.  Also, providers are very cooperative about seeing each other’s patients as needed.”

Team meetings are important no matter what industry you’re in, but it’s especially vital in health care, where members of a care team are providing different aspects of care to a patient throughout the day. For VA employees, being on the same page is critical, and can make all the difference in improving both the access to, and quality of care that a Veteran receives.

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VA Scientists Honored for Groundbreaking Work on Spinal Cord Injuries

VA is one of the largest clinical research organizations in the U.S., conducting more than 10,000 research projects with state-of-the-art equipment at 115 VA facilities.VA Scientists William A. Bauman, M.D. and Ann M. Spungen, Ph.D. are great examples of VA’s mission to advance health care in the U.S. Their groundbreaking work on spinal cord injuries was recognized this week. Read the full press release below.

WASHINGTON – In the past, spinal cord injuries often meant a death sentence for patients – not because of the injury itself, but because of the complications caused as a result of the injury. But thanks to the work of two Veterans Affairs scientists and researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), many paralyzed Veterans now have a reason for hope. And a way to live.

Last night, William A. Bauman, M.D., and Ann M. Spungen, Ph.D., Director and Associate Director of VA’s Rehabilitation Research & Development National Center of Excellence for the Medical Consequences of Spinal Cord Injury were awarded the prestigious Samuel J. Heyman Science and Environment Medal, also known as the “Sammies.”

The Science and Environment Medal is awarded to federal employees who have made a significant contribution to the nation. The pair of VA researchers, who have been working together for a quarter of a century, were recognized in a ceremony in the Andrew Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. VA Secretary Robert McDonald presented Bauman and Spungen their awards.

“Many of our facilities perform groundbreaking work, which serves as a model for healthcare research across the nation,” said Secretary McDonald. “I am proud of William and Ann. Any research institution would be proud to have these leading scientists, but they have chosen to dedicate their careers to serving Veterans at VA, and we are proud to call them our own.”

In 2001, Bauman and Spungen established the VA’s Rehabilitation Research & Development National Center of Excellence for the Medical Consequences of Spinal Cord Injury in Bronx, NY, where Spungen most recently tested a new bionic walking assistance system that enables individuals with paralysis to stand, walk, and climb stairs.

As part of their collaboration, Bauman and Spungen have made great progress in understanding the effects of spinal cord injury on the body. Their work led to the conclusion that persons with spinal cord injury are at a markedly increased risk for heart disease. They were also the first to describe, and then treat, an asthma-like lung condition common in those with higher levels of paralysis. They have developed approaches to make it easier for paralyzed patients to undergo successful colonoscopies. With other researchers in their unit, Bauman and Spungen formulated novel drug combinations to raise low blood pressure, and they have overseen the development of treatments to reduce bone loss shortly after spinal cord injury. Their work has advanced our understanding and treatment of chronic, non-healing pressure ulcers. Researchers under their direction also are making strides toward improving understanding of body temperature regulation and the effect of swings in body temperature on one’s ability to think.

Bauman has worked at the Bronx VA hospital for 35 years, starting in the laboratory of the late Rosalyn Sussman Yalow, VA physicist and Nobel Prize winner. Bauman said he made up his mind from the start to devote himself to patients with spinal cord injury who, at the time, were largely marginalized and overlooked by physicians with training in general medicine.

“I would say our center’s greatest accomplishment has been to identify problems in persons with spinal cord injury that no one had appreciated prior to our work, and then to develop successful approaches to solve them,” Bauman said. “Prior to our work, many of these problems were not realized to be important, or were ignored because it seemed that nothing could be done to improve them.”

Spungen said she can recall being captivated by the sense of civic duty pervading Bauman’s energetic sphere of medical research activity at the hospital.

“I got to the VA and met these incredible scientists and investigators who were here working for the Veterans and who were so intelligent, so open, and so kind. I just became enamored with the entire atmosphere and dug in, and I have been here ever since,” Spungen said.

Robert Ruff, national director for neurology at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the work of Bauman and Spungen has had a wide-ranging impact. “The research is relevant not only to people with spinal cord injury, but to a larger population who are immobilized, from those with ALS to cancers, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, dementia or Parkinson’s disease,” Ruff added.

The Service to America Medals are presented by the Partnership for Public Service. This year, eight award winners were chosen from 33 finalists and almost 400 nominees. The 2014 selection committee included CEO Alberto Ibarguen of the Knight Foundation, Maryland Senator Benjamin Cardin, and Georgetown University President John DeGioia.

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VA Scientists William A. Bauman, M.D., and Ann M. Spungen, Ph.D. were honored this week.

VA Scientists William A. Bauman, M.D., and Ann M. Spungen, Ph.D. were honored this week.

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Through a Psychiatrist’s Eyes: 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.

VA employees are on the front lines of mental health care every day. From social workers who help homeless Veterans find permanent housing, to Psychiatrists who asses treatment for Veterans going through major crises, every aspect of care is important to the well-being of our Veteran patients.

Part of the success of mental health treatment at VA is how the hospital, and health system at large, equips our employees with tools and resources to bring the best care to Veterans.

For VA Psychiatrist Dean, his work is rewarding in large part to the support system that VA provides. Since he moved from private practice to VA 13 years ago, he’s observed the evidence of this support.

“The colleagues that I work with, the health care system’s attention to detail, the feedback that I get from the Veterans and the overall outcomes of my treatment have improved quite a bit now that I’ve had access to a full range of services that I could only dream of in private practice,” he says.

Learn more about his experience in the video below:

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

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VA Announces: Higher Pay for Doctors and Dentists

To ensure that we continue to provide quality care for our Nation’s Veterans, it is critical that we attract top health care talent, and one of the ways we can do so is by establishing more competitive salaries for the best and brightest in healthcare.

On Wednesday, September 17, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it will publish a notification in the Federal Register which increases the maximum rates of annual pay for in-coming Veterans Health Administration (VHA) physicians and dentists. This includes a proposed pay increase of $20,000 to $35,000 annually.

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“At VA, we have a noble and inspiring mission – to serve Veterans, their survivors and dependents. There is no higher calling,” said VA Secretary Robert McDonald recently. “We are committed to hiring more medical professionals across the country to better serve Veterans and expand their access to timely, high-quality care.”

This proposed increase in pay is just one aspect of the recruiting initiative that Secretary McDonald has directed to bring the best and brightest health care professionals to VA.

Additional steps include:

  • Collaborating on a new nursing academic partnership (VA Nursing Academic Partnerships or VANAP) focused on psychiatric and mental health care to build stronger, mutually beneficial relationships between nursing schools and VA facilities.
  • Partnering with the Department of Defense Health Affairs, Army, Navy, and Air Force to improve recruitment of recently or soon to be discharged health care professionals.
  • Expanding a pilot program to bring combat medics and corpsmen in to VA facilities as clinicians
  • Improving the credentialing process for VA and DoD health care providers, which will involve sharing credentials to speed up the process.
  • Expanding the loan repayment program, as included in the recently passed Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act.

If you’re a health care professional who has a passion for serving Veterans, visit vacareers.va.gov to learn more and apply today.

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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 VAcareers.va.gov 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 VAcareers.va.gov 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 VAcareers.va.gov.

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