Atlanta VA Health Care System
In October 2007, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) established the OEF/OIF (Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom) Care Management Program in the Office of Patient Care Services, Care Management and Social Work Service. The program addresses the needs of wounded and ill Service members and Veterans as they return from deployment and transition from the DoD health care system to the VA system of care. In September of 2010, OND (Operation New Dawn) was added to the program name in recognition of the changing mission in Iraq.
Under VHA’s OEF/OIF/OND Care Management Program, each VA Medical Center has an OEF/OIF/OND Care Management team in place to coordinate patient care activities and ensure that Service members and Veterans are receiving patient-centered, integrated care and benefits. Members of the Atlanta OEF/OIF/OND Care Management team include: a Program Manager (Kerry Traviss), a Program Support Assistant (Beverly Ragland), Clinical Case Managers, (Cameisha Barnes, Yvonne Carter, Rebecca Frye, Jennifer Gallahar, Keith Harris, and Rebecca Winston), and two Transition Patient Advocates (Ron Hackney and Reggie Harrison). The Program Manager has overall administrative and clinical responsibility for the team and ensures that all OEF/OIF/OND Veterans are screened for case management.
Severely injured OEF/OIF/OND Veterans are provided with a case manager and any other OEF/OIF/OND Veteran may be assigned a case manager upon request or as indicated by a positive screening assessment. Clinical Case Managers coordinate patient care activities and ensure that all clinicians providing care to the patient are doing so in a cohesive and integrated manner. In addition, the case managers maintain regular contact with Veterans and their families to provide support and assistance to address any health care and psychosocial needs that may arise. The TPAs help the Veteran and family navigate the VA system by acting as a communicator, facilitator and problem solver. The national OEF/OIF/OND Care Management program now serves over 54,000 Service members and Veterans including over 6,000 severely injured. The Atlanta OEF/OIF/OND Care Management program has screened over 4,300 veterans for case management.
The TPAs help the Veteran and family navigate the VA system by acting as a communicator, facilitator and problem solver.
The Atlanta OEF/OIF/OND team hosts an annual Awareness Day at the medical center to provide Veterans, hospital staff, and visitors with information and education regarding VA Benefits and Services. The program also hosts an Annual Welcome Home event in honor of returning combat veterans. This year’s 4th annual event will be held at Turner Field in September. In addition to these annual events, the program conducts a monthly Benefits Seminar in Pete Wheeler auditorium.
For more information about the Atlanta VA OEF/OIF/OND program, please visit:
OEF/OIF/OND team puts Vets on right path
Jamie Smith joined the Army Reserves in 2004. She obtained the rank of Staff Sergeant and served in two deployments, one to Iraq and one to Afghanistan. Following those deployments, she expected her to life to "return to normal". However, Smith began to notice some changes. For example, her sleep pattern was off. "I would run myself as hard as I could and then crash." Smith contacted the Atlanta VAMC to obtain some more information about the changes she was experiencing post-deployment.
Approximately twenty percent of the returning combat veterans welcomed by the Atlanta VAMC OEF/OIF/OND Program are female veterans. Kerry Traviss, OEF/OIF/OND Program Manager remarks, "We want this program to feel like a safe and respectful place for all veterans, including our female veterans." The Atlanta VAMC has specialty services for female veterans, including Women’s Wellness and counseling programs focused on the needs of female veterans. Traviss notes, "Our job is to educate female veterans about the services available to them. We hope that more and more female veterans will seek care at the Atlanta VAMC."
Jamie Smith knows that she is just embarking on a path towards "getting back to normal". But she notes, "I already feel like I’ve calmed down some, and I feel good about the treatment options available to me at the Atlanta VAMC." Traviss smiles at this comment. "We are pleased anytime a veteran feels comfortable accessing services at our facility. We are here to serve all veterans, and our female veterans will always be welcomed with open arms."
For Veterans such as Antwain Vaughn that kind of support is often just what is needed for them to take the first step towards recovery.
Six years ago, Vaughn was celebrating his birthday in Iraq riding in a small tank when it rolled over an IED blast. The explosion caused severe damage to his head and the loss of his left eye. He was in a coma for 3 weeks.
His recovery was slow and involved multiple surgeries. He returned home to Atlanta, Georgia and had some hesitancies about seeking care at the VA. "There is a lot of misinformation out there about the VA. But, as soon as I connected to my OEF/OIF/OND Case Manager, I was put on the right path. They really broke everything down for me."
"I feel like I’m slowly getting better. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of support in this program." Vaughn uses his OEF/OIF/OND Case Manager, the Atlanta VAMC Life Coach and the Army Wounded Warrior Representative at the Atlanta VAMC. "The whole team is here in one place. When I need something, I can knock out it all out in one spot."
Vaughn recalls his struggles with accepting the life changes caused by his injury. "I had wanted to be a State Trooper, but I knew that wasn’t an option for me after the blast. I felt uncomfortable going to my kids’ school because of the way the other kids looked at me." "I’ve learned that you don’t have to hold everything in. That just makes things hurt worse on the inside."
Vaughn is currently working towards becoming a Personal Trainer. He feels more comfortable spending time at his children’s school. "When I’m at their school, my kids’ friends run up to me when they see me. I don’t like the word, but they call me a ‘hero’. It feels good."
Vaughn encourages other returning combat Veterans to enroll with the OEF/OIF/OND program. "Go to the VA. They
understand what combat Veterans have been through and can offer you the best treatment available," said Vaughn who served as an Army combat engineer.
Vaughn and Smith serve as an inspiration and reminder to others facing similiar challenges to find the personal courage to reach out for help and to heal.