Veterans’ Health Today
Suicide Prevention: Helping our Veterans
Approximately 40,000 people in the United States commit suicide each year. Sadly, about 8,000 of those are Veterans.
But Nurse Nick Clough, Suicide Prevention Coordinator at VA Long Beach Healthcare System, says there are avenues for Veterans and those who care about them.
“Certainly if a Veteran is exhibiting warning signs that indicate a suicide attempt is imminent, call 911 immediately,” he says. “Veterans or concerned friends or family can also call the National Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press option #1. Trained counselors are there 24/7 to help work through a situation.” The Veterans Crisis Line has fielded over 1.1 million calls from August 2007 through December 2013.
The VA Telecare 24 hotline at 1-877-252-4866 is another resource for Veterans.
“Also, most VA Medical Centers have emergency rooms open 24/7,” Clough adds, “and they have access to mental health staff, either on premise or on call. Many VA Clinics and Medical Centers also have walk-in Mental Health Clinics available on weekdays if a Veteran needs to connect with them in a non-emergency situation.”
“The real tragedy behind suicide deaths—is that so many could be prevented,” says Karin Kiewra, Harvard School of Public Health. “Research shows that whether attempters live or die depends in large part on the ready availability of highly lethal means, especially firearms.”
Clough says it’s also important to restrict access to guns, and other lethal means if at all possible. If removing the gun isn’t possible, Clough suggests removing the ammunition and placing a gun lock on the weapon. Ask your local VA facility, VA Suicide Prevention Coordinator, or VA police, about free gun locks.
For more information about suicide prevention, go to www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention
September is suicide prevention month, so watch for awareness events and activities at your local VA facilities.
A Call Away
For Veterans in need of help or advice, VA provides help at their fingertips, with a variety of resources just a call away — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
· Nurses are available for health care advice at 1-877-252-4866
· The Veterans Crisis Line aids Veterans in crisis (as well as their families and friends) at 1-800-273-8255, by texting 838255, or online at www.veteranscrisisline.net
National Call Center for Homeless Veterans hotline provides homeless or at-risk
Veterans access to trained counselors at 1-877-4AID VET (877-424-3838) or
online at www.va.gov/homeless/nationalcallcenter.asp
The Million Veteran Program Needs You!
Have you heard about the Million Veteran Program (MVP)? What is it, and how can you participate?
Loma Linda physician Dr. Ronald Fernando explains, “Most human diseases are hereditary—they are passed down to us through genes. The Million Veteran Program, or MVP, is a voluntary national research program to learn how genes, lifestyles, and military exposure affect health and wellness.”
Comparing genes and health characteristics of people with and without diseases may explain why some people develop certain diseases but others don’t, or why some people respond to particular medications but others don’t.
“Right now,” Dr. Fernando says, “we treat diseases. If we can understand the role of genetics, we may someday be able to develop individualized treatments based on a patient’s genetic profile—we may even be able to someday fix genetic defects.”
The goal is to eventually enroll one million Veterans in the study, thus the name—Million Veteran Program. Participation is free and easy, according to Tiffany Gunneman, Team Manager and Research Liaison of the Clinical Research Group at VA Loma Linda Healthcare System.
“You can simply walk into your clinic and sign up,” she says. “They book appointments, but they also take walk-ins. Four of our five sites are participating, with the only exception being Las Vegas. However, you need to enroll at the facility where you are a patient. In other words, in Loma Linda, we can’t enroll Los Angeles patients.”
Dr. Fernando explains the easy enrollment process. “First, we ask you to fill out a baseline survey, which takes around 20 minutes. You can do it there, or you can take it home and mail it back.”
Participants must also sign consent papers, which means you understand and agree to participate in the research and to have blood drawn one time. Part of the consent is agreeing to allow your medical history to be linked to the blood sample, but it is done so securely through the VA Central Research Database. Safeguards are in place to protect the information collected as part of MVP, and access to MVP data is very tightly controlled.
After giving a blood sample, participants receive a second survey that asks about things like your habits, lifestyle, and diet. Both MVP surveys are voluntary, but Dr. Fernando says they provide a lot of helpful information, so he encourages Veterans to complete them.
If you have questions about the MVP, visit your nearest VA facility, call 1-866-441-6075, or go to www.research.va.gov/mvp
Phone System Redesign
If you’ve called one of our telephone numbers lately, you probably noticed a huge improvement in how your call was handled. If you haven’t phoned, you’re in for a pleasant surprise when you do.
According to Justin Sivill, Network Systems Redesign Director, staff began planning back in 2011 how to best overhaul the phone systems. He says it took several years to complete the rollout because they wanted to get it right.
Out with the old…
“We knew from Veteran complaints that the system wasn’t working, and data backed that up,” he said. “The average wait time was four minutes, and almost 40 percent of callers simply hung up. It was unacceptable.”
The system redesign process began by developing a long-term plan and then implementing it at all our facilities: San Diego, Las Vegas, Long Beach, Loma Linda, and Los Angeles.
“The team wanted each facility to have its own call center,” explains Sivill, “but we wanted calls to each facility handled with the same dedication to care so Veterans knew what to expect. We wanted the system to be familiar, with the same welcome message and options, so callers could get where they wanted.”
Veterans were a big help along the way. Groups of Veterans were brought in at each location and asked what they didn’t like about the existing system. Their insight was very helpful to the design team.
Randy Quinton, Deputy Network Director, says, “Tech-savvy Veterans had, in some cases, learned workarounds for the old systems. They knew which numbers to dial and what to press during certain prompts to get to someone who could help them. Not surprisingly, they had figured out how to get things done.”
Those workarounds became unnecessary, however, as system installations began. Sivill says the team learned lessons with each site completed, and they rolled those lessons into subsequent installations, gradually fine-tuning the process.
Designing, installing, and operating the new phone systems took an overwhelming amount of dedication and hard work from many people. Sivill and Quinton credit the front line staff, call center managers, information technology employees, clerks, and everyone else involved. “They spent countless hours testing new lines, coming in early or staying late for training—whatever it took, they did it,” said Sivill. “The phone systems were our #1 complaint for a long time, so everyone involved put in the hours to make this transformation happen.”
In with the new!
An important part of the new system involves “one stop shopping” for Veterans. Sivill explained that historically, if someone called a facility without a phone center, an operator transferred the call. “Now,” he says, “a Veteran may call to refill a prescription or find out if it’s been shipped, but he may also need to schedule or cancel an appointment, or maybe he wants general information about a clinic. The phone center clerks can now do all of that.”
He said the team is working closely with people in the phone centers—offering more coaching and education—so they become true partners in serving the Veteran population. “They’ve been great at helping meet our goals, which include the ability to answer all calls within 60 seconds and, if needed, to have nurses call back within 30 minutes. Most medication refills can be processed with a two-minute phone call. Call center staff can message your care team or hand you off to someone in the Triage Center who can evaluate your symptoms.”
Overall calls have actually decreased, mainly because people don’t have to hang up and call back. Our VA medical centers and clinics receive an average of 45,000 calls per week, and the approximate wait time has gone from four minutes down to 30 seconds. With the old system, more than half of the callers simply hung up; now, it’s less than 5 percent.
While high volume times are a challenge, Sivill says the system is significantly better than it used to be. “By the end of year, we’ll have answered about 95 percent of all calls coming in, and we want to have a way to resolve every call. The system will likely continue to evolve, but now and in the future, our main goal will always be to satisfy customers: America’s Veterans.”
Bottom Line: We Want You Here!
Taking care of your health is important, so we want to make sure you have plenty of alternatives for getting to your VA appointments without facing a hardship. There are qualifications you must meet for the beneficiary travel program, but here is an overview of potential options that make it easier for you to obtain VA health care services.
· Veterans may qualify for medically related travel benefits (mileage reimbursement) if:
· You have a service-connected disability rating of 30 percent or more,
· You are traveling for treatment of a service-connected condition,
· You receive a VA pension,
· You are traveling for a scheduled compensation or pension examination, or
· Your income does not exceed the maximum annual VA pension (in 2013 the maximum was $29,098.00).
Mileage reimbursement is paid at a rate of 41.5 cents per mile. Scheduled appointments qualify for round-trip mileage, but unscheduled visits may be limited to return mileage only.
It is important to remember that
there is a deductible associated with mileage reimbursements, but there are
exceptions. VA will waive the deductible if you are eligible for travel
· You are in receipt of a VA pension, or
· You are a non-service-connected Veteran and (1) your previous year’s income does not exceed the applicable VA pension rate, or (2) your projected current calendar year’s income (in the year of application) will not exceed the applicable VA pension rate, or
· You are a service-connected Veteran and your previous year’s income does not exceed, or your projected current calendar year’s income, in the year of application will not exceed the applicable VA national means test income threshold, or
· You are traveling for a scheduled compensation or pension exam.
The current mileage reimbursement deductible is $3 one-way (or $6 round trip). However, there is a monthly cap of $18. So, if you make six one-way or three round trips in a month, you would reach the $18 in deductibles, and travel for the remainder of that month would not be subject to a deductible.
Veterans eligible for mileage reimbursement may also be provided special transportation (e.g., wheelchair van, ambulance) based on need (authorization is required for emergencies unless a delay would endanger a Veteran’s life or health). One example is if a VA clinician determines that your medical condition requires an ambulance or a specially equipped van, and you meet one of the mileage reimbursement eligibility criteria, and the travel is pre-authorized. Of course, pre-authorization is not required for emergencies if a delay would be hazardous to your life or health.
The Bottom Line
If you have questions or need further clarification on the beneficiary travel program described above, please call the following contacts.
(702) 791-9000, ext.14105
(909) 825-7084, ext. 3334
Charles Kirkman/Stan Coleman
(858) 552-8585, ext. 7572/3826
The only health information resource designed for you.
The new Healthy Living Assessment (HLA) tool can help My HealtheVet users learn their actual “health age” and how to improve their health age by following some guidelines and recommendations. This confidential online tool asks questions about personal and family health history and lifestyle choices to assist users in leading a healthier life and lifestyle.
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VA Mobile Apps
Stay Quit Coach Mobile App
Trauma and PTSD can make it hard to quit smoking.
The Stay Quit Coach app is designed to help you stay quit after you stop.
To learn more, visit http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/stayquit_coach_app.asp
PTSD Coach Mobile App
The PTSD Coach mobile app helps Veterans use technology to learn about and manage their PTSD symptoms, with direct links to tools and assistance.
Download the app free from iTunes and Google Play, or visit www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/ptsdcoach.asp for more information.
VA Medical Centers
VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System
6900 North Pecos Road
North Las Vegas, NV 89086
Mike O’Callaghan Federal Medical Center
4700 Las Vegas Blvd. North
Las Vegas, NV 89191
VA Loma Linda Healthcare System
11201 Benton Street
Loma Linda, CA 92357
VA Long Beach Healthcare System
5901 East 7th Street
Long Beach, CA 90822
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VA San Diego Healthcare System
3350 La Jolla Village Drive
San Diego, CA 92161
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VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System
11301 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90073
2569 W. Woodland Drive
Anaheim, CA 92801
547 W. Lancaster Blvd.
Lancaster, CA 93534
1801 Westwind Drive
Bakersfield, CA 93301
Blythe Telehealth Clinic
205 N. 1st Street, Suite C
Blythe, CA 92225
2001 River Avenue, Bldg. 28
Long Beach, CA 90810
835 3rd Avenue, Suite B
Chula Vista, CA 91910
800 Magnolia Avenue #101
Corona, CA 92879
East Los Angeles
5400 E. Olympic Blvd. #150
City of Commerce, CA 90022
815 East Pennsylvania Ave.
Escondido, CA 92025
1251 Redondo Beach Blvd.
Gardena, CA 90247
1600 South Imperial Drive
El Centro, CA 92243
25292 McIntyre Street
Laguna Hills, CA 92653
Las Vegas Northeast
4461 E. Charleston Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89104
Las Vegas Northwest
3968 N Rancho Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89130
Las Vegas Southeast
1020 S. Boulder Highway
Henderson, NV 89015
Las Vegas Southwest
7235 S. Buffalo Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89113
351 E. Temple Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
8810 Rio San Diego Drive
San Diego, CA 92108
28078 Baxter Road, Ste. 540
Murrieta, CA 92563
1300 Rancho del Oro Drive
Oceanside, CA 92056
2000 Outlet Center Drive
Oxnard, CA 93036
41-990 Cook St., Building F Suite 1004
Palm Desert, CA 92211
2100 E. Calvada Boulevard
Pahrump, NV 89048
8599 Haven Ave., Suite 102
Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91730
San Luis Obispo
1288 Morro St., #200
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Santa Ana, CA 92705
4440 Calle Real
Santa Barbara, CA 93110
1550 East Main Street
Santa Maria, CA 93454
16111 Plummer Street
Sepulveda, CA 91343
12138 Industrial Blvd., Ste. 120
Victorville, CA 92395
Whittier/Santa Fe Springs
10210 Orr and Day Road
Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670
Veterans’ Health Today
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Long Beach, CA
This publication is provided as a service to enrolled Veterans in So. California and So. Nevada.
Additional copies can be found at www.desertpacific.va.gov/publicaffairs.htm.
Address changes should be sent to your local VA medical center.