Memorial Day at UCSF and Strengthening Ties with the VA

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Many people associate Memorial Day with a long weekend to party and vacation, drink alcohol and celebrate the approaching summer.

For the family and friends who have lost loved ones who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces, Memorial Day is a time to remember and thank those men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice to this country by defending the rights and liberties many of us take so easily for granted.

Student Veterans of UCSF, in partnership with the Office of Diversity and Outreach, organized a Memorial Day celebration this year in Saunders Court honoring the members of our community who have served in the Armed Forces. The Lowell High School JROTC Color Guard presented the American flag as members of UCSF’s Vocal Chords sang the National Anthem. The guest speaker was Retired Army Lt. Col. Steve Countouriotis who was an Army Reserves Blackhawk pilot who saw two tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Ending the day’s ceremony, the color guard solemnly played “Taps,” a tune typically concluding many military funerals.

Virginia Blackman, a Ph.D. nursing student and member of the U.S. Navy, said, “The main point we’re trying to convey with this event is that Memorial Day is not about the people here, it’s about the people who aren’t here—people who gave their lives to determine the nation we would become, and whether or not the Union would prevail… so that Europe would not fall to fascists… so that the Empire of Japan would not rule all of Asia… so that Korea might experience democracy… so that Iraqis might vote… and so that Afghan girls (and boys) might go to school.”

We also cannot forget the current Service members and veterans of wars past who were able to return with their lives but suffer from debilitating injuries incurred during their time in service.

Veteran Affairs in the news

The Department of Veterans Affairs, the second largest federal agency, is the organization in charge of caring for Service members after they have returned from war or separated from military service. It has received a lot of negative press in recent weeks regarding allegations of VA employees’ misconduct and scheduling delays. VA medical facilities are busy and handle around 236,000 appointments each day, so it's no surprise if errors in scheduling might have occurred.

Some veterans have to wait months or longer just to see a provider and with an organization so large there are inefficiencies that need to be streamlined to provide more patient-centered care. There is also the concern regarding delays in processing of disability claims and a years-long backlog of some cases. I can personally attest to the fact that I’ve been waiting five months for my own claim to be processed and it’s still far from being completed.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has promised to fix delays in care and said an audit has been launched of all 150 VA hospitals and 820 outpatient clinics, utilizing a team of 200 staffers, to look into delays of care. He also promised to meet his goal of ending the backlog in disability claims by 2015.

There are also highlights of the VA and what they have provided to veterans and Service members: two million new veterans have entered into the health care system; there has been a 24 percent reduction in veteran homelessness; and more than a million veterans or eligible family members are now receiving education benefits.

UCSF-VA partnership

UCSF has been actively helping some of those two million new veterans through the unique partnerships with local VA medical facilities. The Department of Medicine has been the academic partner of the San Francisco VA Medical Center since the 1960’s and they have maintained a close and mutually beneficial relationship ever since.

This summer, the School of Nursing will kick off a new partnership with the VA Palo Alto Health Care System (VAPAHCS) to provide 27 Master’s Entry Program in Nursing (MEPN) students with a seven week pre-licensure nursing residency program with the possibility of employment in their New Grad fall program.

MEPN students are comprised of a variety of nursing specialties and they will have the opportunity gain experience in settings all throughout the VAPAHCS that match their advanced practice goals as well as providing care for veterans.

Deborah Johnson, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing, is credited with making the initial connection with staff at the VAPAHCS that eventually made this opportunity into a reality. She credits Sandra Chin Sang, Chief of Psychiatric Nursing and Gloria Martinez, Nurse Executive/Associate Director of Patient Care Services from the VAPAHCS for their commitment to the future of nursing and their passion to provide a state-of-the art facility to train and mentor this inceptive group of UCSF MEPN students.

Linda Sawyer, MEPN Assistant Director, who is set to retire this June, was also instrumental in working behind the scenes and coordinating the thousands of emails between students, faculty and the VA to make sure that no detail was missed. It is everyone’s hopes this is the start of a long-term relationship between UCSF and VAPAHCS.

“What’s great about this residency program is that it provides an opportunity for students to showcase their strengths and for different nurse managers to get acquainted with our students while opening up the possibility of providing future jobs to UCSF students to care for veterans,” said Professor Johnson.

Most important of all, veterans can receive quality care they so desperately need while helping UCSF students gain valuable skills and confidence that will carry with them for the rest of their lives. For me, this summer residency enables me to be an agent of change to make the VA a better place and allows me to remain connected with a segment of the American population, with whom I share a special bond.

Memorial Day reminds us of the ultimate sacrifice of those who served our country. Despite increasing pressure on the VA to improve delivery of care, it is through partnerships like the VAPACHS and UCSF that will allow our veterans to have a fulfilling life.