At The American Legion, we are dedicated to serving our fellow service members and Veterans in a variety of ways; including helping ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) delivers the best possible health care for our nation’s Veterans. As The American Legion’s Deputy Director for Health Care for the National Veteran Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission, I lead four national field service representatives in our “System Worth Saving” program to evaluate VA Medical Facilities nationwide.
The System Worth Saving was founded in 2003 by American Legion Past National Commander Ron Conley to assess the quality and timeliness of Veterans’ healthcare and to provide feedback from Veterans on their level of care. Since 2003, the System Worth Saving program has continued to conduct site visits to between 30-50 VA Medical Facilities nationwide. The reports from these site visits are compiled into a publication, which is distributed to the President, Members of Congress, VA Officials and American Legion members. Our efforts during these site visits include interviewing VA Medical Facility senior leadership and staff, inpatients and outpatients, and family members of Veterans to help improve or enhance care throughout VA’s healthcare system. Our System Worth Saving report is a key driver in improving several areas affecting Veterans with their health care benefits.
As a United States Navy Hospital Corpsman, a Legion field representative, and as deputy director, I’ve seen firsthand how much easier it is for Veterans to seek treatment for physical wounds as opposed to invisible injuries. Many of these injuries may go unrecognized for months, years, and even decades after military service. Mental health challenges affect Veterans of every service era, whether they’re recent OEF/OIF/OND Veterans dealing with the transition to civilian life or they’re Veterans of Korea or Vietnam with unresolved issues heightened by life changes such as aging.
Although over a million Veterans benefitted from VA’s mental health services last year alone, regrettably, there are still many who do not. A variety of reasons exist for why these Veterans may not seek mental health treatment for life problems or mental health symptoms. They may be unaware of how past experiences or trauma could impact their lives, or may not realize that treatment really works. Many struggle with trusting someone enough to talk through the feelings and experiences troubling them. And some Veterans may just be uncomfortable with seeking any mental health services, even if these resources could help get their lives on a better track. As challenging as these obstacles seem, we know that time after time, Veterans have been more than willing to follow in the footsteps and successes of their buddies.
That’s where VA’s new Make the Connection campaign and website come in. It’s a safe, easy, private way for Veterans—and their families—to explore and connect with the experiences and challenges Veterans like them face every day. At MakeTheConnection.net, any time, day or night, Veterans can quickly access video testimonials of other Veterans who have lived through life events similar to their own. They can browse through clear, concise information, connect some of the signs and symptoms they may be experiencing to treatable mental health conditions, and locate resources and services in their communities.
As a veteran, I’m excited VA is connecting Veterans to the experiences and stories of their peers – a proven and effective way to encourage those who haven’t reached out for help to ask for and find support, whether from VA or within their own communities. Make the Connection is another way VA is demonstrating its commitment to stand by our Veterans and guide them to the services and benefits they have earned in innovative ways. I encourage your help by making sure every veteran and his or her loved ones know about this unique website. Visit MakeTheConnection.net—because Veterans cannot receive the treatment they have earned through their service, if they are not first able to make the connection.
Jabob Gadd is the Deputy Director for Health Care, National Veteran Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission for The American Legion.