“Words cannot really describe the level of dedication, loyalty and drive that VA Patient Advocates have when it comes to helping Veterans. Many PA’s are Veterans themselves or are a family member of a Veteran. It is exciting to hear the passion in Patient Advocates’ voices when they talk about the need for ensuring our Veterans get the best health care and benefits possible. Thank you Patient Advocates – what you do matters!”
–Lana Frankenfield, PhD, CNHP, LCSW
VHA Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation
In this series, we would like you to meet just a few of VA’s Patient Advocates and to read about why they love their job and some of the remarkable things they do for Veterans.
For VA employee Brian Mason, being there for his fellow Veterans is not just his job, it is also his passion. Mason, a 10-year Army Veteran, by day is a patient advocate at the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System. In that role, Mason fields phone calls and visits every day from Veterans needing assistance navigating the health care system or understanding the benefits available to them through VA. He’s been in this position for three years, and he takes his role very seriously.
In his “spare time” Patient Advocate Brian Mason also participates in pet therapy. Twice a month, armed with four Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Mason visits Veterans at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport, Mississippi.
“What inspired me to want this job was the fact that when I was medically discharged, back in 2007, I had an excellent experience with a patient representative. She was attentive, compassionate and knowledgeable about the process. She answered any questions I had and was able to guide me through the rather stressful process. I shared with her during my last few days in the Army, that her job seemed like a great job to be able to “give back” to Veterans, since I was not able to stay in the service. We talked about what her job actually was and I decided at that point that I would attempt to regain some of my self-confidence by obtaining a similar position in VA. Fast forward to today, and I have been able to make that decision a reality,” Mason said.
“My job as a patient advocate has been very rewarding to me. I can assist Veterans every day, each encounter different than the other,” Mason explained. “They can consist of educating Veterans on a process or procedure that they may not understand. I may have a Veteran that perceives some part of care is going unattended or there might be some equipment or medication they need. Each Veteran that comes to me is treated with respect and honesty. If I am unable to assist them, I will involve someone that can.
“We, as advocates, will involve as many resources as it takes to obtain a positive outcome for the Veteran. Having a job that affords me the opportunity to help a Veteran get his/her medication that might be lost in the mail, assist in getting that piece of equipment or device that the Veteran needs now is a wonderful way for me to “give back” to my fellow Veterans. I hope that in some way, each day, I am making a little bit of a difference in the lives of the Veterans that visit my office requesting assistance.
Small Victories are All I Need
“Probably one of the most rewarding aspects of my job is seeing Veterans that I was able to assist in getting a surgery, that may have been delayed and that they needed to improve their lives and to see them now smiling when I see them again in the clinic. Those small victories are all I need on a daily basis for me to feel good about what I do at the VA. I am looking forward to many more years of service to Veterans here at the Gulf Coast VA,” he said.
And if that isn’t enough giving back for one person, Mason takes it steps further. He has also found ways to give back to Veterans during his off time. One such activity he has been involved with over the past five years is pet therapy. Armed with four cavalier king Charles spaniels, Mason visits Veterans at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport twice a month.
“I don’t know who gets more excited,” Mason said, “my dogs or the Veterans waiting in the hallway when we arrive.
“We stay for about two hours, visiting Veterans who can’t get out and about around the home. Some are bedridden and spending time with a pet brings a huge smile on their faces. There aren’t many activities you can do that bring out this emotion like a dog can. And my dogs just love the interaction,” he said.
Sense of Peace and Satisfaction
Mason explained that many of the Veterans who live at the retirement home had pets throughout their whole lives. Now they find themselves missing the companionship and joy that a pet can bring to a person. Through his regular visits, Veterans truly enjoy petting the dogs and letting the dogs sit on their laps. It brings a real sense of peace and satisfaction.
With still just a few hours on the weekend left, recently Mason got involved with Team River Runner, a national organization dedicated to creating environments of healthy adventure, recreation and camaraderie for healing active duty, Veteran service members and their families through adaptive kayaking. He found a chapter in south Alabama.
“This experience has been both healing for me and it is giving me the foundation to helping others Veterans that are taking part in this group,” Mason said.
“I would suggest any Veteran that has a willingness to want to get better and heal to look into joining this group. It’s hard to explain to someone that hasn’t taken part in something like this. But to be out on the water, regardless of your physical or mental disadvantages, to be able to still enjoy the physical challenge in an environment that is soothing, almost spiritual – that is very healing.
“To me it is both humbling and a privilege to be in a kayak or on the water with Veterans that might be amputees or have any other physical or mental challenges, and to be with them going through this together…words just don’t do it justice,” Mason said.
By: Mary Kay Gominger
Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System Public Affairs Officer