Serving those who serve

‘Caring for Veterans through Research and Collaboration’ theme of VA National Research Week

By Ellie Castano

UMass Medical School Communications

April 23, 2012
  UMMS partners with Veterans Inc. and provides volunteers to serve meals to veterans and their families. Pictured, left to right, are James Leary and Kola Akindele of the Office of Community and Government Relations, joined by School of Medicine Dean Terence Flotte and Chancellor Michael Collins.

From President Lincoln’s promise “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and for his orphan,” to President Obama’s challenge to end homelessness among veterans by 2015, serving those who serve their country has long been considered a national priority. While the commitment is strong, the follow through has not always been as effective as Lincoln dreamed it would be, as evidenced by Obama’s charge to transform the Veterans Administration after recent failures.

As an academic medical center, UMass Medical School plays an important role in improving veterans’ access to the services they deserve and to improving those services through clinical and scholarly research. VA National Research Week, celebrated this year April 23–27, is designed to call attention to the achievements of VA researchers and the role they play in providing high quality care for veterans and advancing medical science.

Among the complex web of challenges that veterans face when returning from combat or leaving active duty are lack of access to care, homelessness and barriers to employment. UMMS is helping to meet those challenges in a number ways.

Direct care
One of the ways that UMMS serves the Massachusetts veterans community is through direct care partnerships with the Veteran’s Administration in which UMMS physicians, students and residents care for patients in area VA hospitals and community clinics and partner with the VA to conduct research on improving care. These longstanding partnerships have expanded recently and now include clinical services across the state. In addition to the direct care these partnerships provide to veterans, they also provide opportunities to teach and learn, with the ultimate goal of improving care.

Combating homelessness
UMMS, through the Department of Psychiatry, is also an essential partner in the National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans (NCHAV), a national resource designed to meet the VA’s five-year plan to end homelessness among veterans through research, education and policy initiatives. UMMS is one of three academic partners nationwide (the others being University of Pennsylvania and University of South Florida), chosen because of its research expertise in improving care through understanding the unique needs of veterans, particularly combat veterans. UMMS is leading the Model Development and Implementation Core of the NCHAV, with the Bedford VA, a longtime partner. Together they are charged with promoting model development, providing technical assistance, offering seed project funding and collaborating with leading experts on shaping solutions to the problem of homelessness in veterans. To learn a more about this research, visit the Department of Psychiatry’s website.

Easing employment
In an effort to combat the employment challenge that many veterans face when attempting to reintegrate into the civilian workforce after leaving military service, the Medical School’s Commonwealth Medicine division established the CWM Veterans Associates Program to assist Massachusetts veterans with transitioning into the civilian workforce. This initiative provides up to two qualified veterans with an opportunity to gain hands-on, civilian work experience during a one-year employment period with CWM. As a result, veterans are able to develop critical new skills and adapt their existing proficiencies for a new environment. Upon successful completion of the program, veterans may be transitioned into regular positions within Commonwealth Medicine, enabling the organization to further diversify its workforce. For additional information about the program, visit the CMW website.

Inspiring volunteerism
On a grassroots level, the Medical School is creating opportunities for members of the UMMS community to directly serve veterans through volunteerism, in partnership with Veterans Inc., the non-profit that serves veterans in the Worcester area. On April 17, the Office of Community and Government Relations hosted Veterans Inc. at its monthly Brown Bag Luncheon. The organization was invited in to talk about the services it provides to area vets and to highlight the importance of volunteering with this population.

The Office of Community and Government Relations also sponsors a monthly service night at Veterans Inc. in which volunteers from UMMS serve meals to veterans and their families at the organization’s facility in Worcester. They are currently looking for employees to serve one night a month. Interested volunteers can register on the Community and Government Relations website. Those who can’t volunteer but who still wish to serve those who have served are encouraged to contribute items on the Veterans Inc. wish list.