On this Veterans Day we reflect on our obligations to the veterans who served our country. In doing so we also note that it’s important to honor veterans every single day and not just one and provide them with timely and compassionate care once they come home.
Community Health Centers take that job seriously, which is why veterans are among the fastest growing segment of patients, totaling nearly 400,000 nationwide. There has been a 76% increase of patients who identify as veterans between 2008 and 2020 and health centers are working hard to meet their unique medical, behavioral, and social service needs. Accomplishing that means forging innovative partnerships, funding relationships, and launching veterans’ initiatives steered by dedicated and passionate leadership and frontline staff, especially in rural areas where veterans live and have difficulty getting to a provider and where 44 percent of health centers are located.
One of the most compelling needs is oral health, largely because most veterans only qualify for VA dental benefits if their dental condition is service-related. Zufall Health in Dover, NJ, early on recognized the compelling need for oral health services among the local population. Zufall set up a medical mobile unity that they took to the local VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC). Veterans could receive some limited dental treatment from the van or get additional care on site at the health center’s brick and mortar clinic. The Zufall dental mobile unit drives to a variety of locations, including soup kitchens and shelters, Stand Down, and The American Legion, where they can reach low-income veterans.
Another pressing issue for veterans is homelessness. That is why Yakima Neighborhood Health Services (YNHS) in Washington State launched a veteran services campus in 2021 in partnership with the Yakima Housing Authority, calling it Chuck Austin Place. The facility boasts 41 newly constructed, permanent supportive housing units, medical, dental, and mental health treatment rooms with on-site care coordination provided by YNHS, and a wide variety of service providers such as Veteran Service Officers and Organizations (VSOs,) who conduct VA-case management and other supportive service for veterans and their families. In addition, the facility offers veteran residents access to on-site laundry, a dog run, library, garden, community gathering spaces, and a fitness center.
Veterans also confront difficulties connecting to services, such as benefits or transportation, which is why Union Community Health Center, in New York City established a Veteran Healthcare Liaison program. Union’s services include wraparound case management services — medical care, dental care, employment and housing assistance, and legal services. Despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, outreach efforts accounted for an 80% increase in number of Veterans served at the health center since 2020.