Phoenix VA Health Care System
Phoenix VA, Partners Reach Out to Native Veterans
Employees with the Phoenix VA Health Care System teamed up with the Veterans Benefits Administration and Veteran Service Organizations to hold an outreach event for Native American Veterans on the White Mountain Apache Reservation, Nov. 14.
A council woman and her husband, an American Legion president, from the reservation approached Phoenix VA staff at a town hall in Show Low, Arizona, Nov. 2, about holding an outreach event for Native Veterans in Whiteriver, Arizona.
“They addressed their concerns with the director (Rima Nelson),” said Mario Villegas, a medical support assistant at the Globe/Miami Community Based Outpatient Clinic and District 6 commander for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “Their concerns were about Veterans not accessing services because they couldn’t make it into the local clinic.”
Villegas said he suggested the VA hold a formal event and bring resources to the Native Veterans. He, along with the PVAHCS Chief of Staff Dr. Maureen McCarthy and Associate Director Michael Welsh, coordinated with the VA staff, VBA and the VSOs to host the event a week after the Show Low town hall.
Donna Landry, an eligibility specialist at the Southeast CBOC, said the team saw roughly 40 Veterans and dependents who sought help or resources.
“I answered a lot questions,” Landry said. “It was a success, and there was definitely a need for the event. The staff there was outstanding and very helpful. It was a good feeling to be able to assist the Veterans, and I know they appreciated us coming up there. I received many thanks and I would go back tomorrow if needed.”
Landry wasn’t alone in her enthusiasm to help the Veterans. Villegas said he believes the outreach event met the intent and expectations of the counsil woman and her tribe, adding that the event wouldn’t have been possible on such short notice without the willingness of employees to volunteer to host the event. He said the VSOs and social workers were instrumental to the event’s success.
“We were shorthanded, so the VSOs helped fill out claims and forms, as well as assist the VBA,” Villegas said. “We provided one Veteran with services who was taken care of quickly. The social workers were great helping Veterans with questions about mental health services, and alcohol and substance abuse. I think it was a great event.”
Villegas said they also provided the Veterans with a lot of resources to include letting them know that the VA offers a shuttle from their reservation to the Show Low CBOC. The reservation is located roughly 25 miles from the CBOC; however, Villegas explained that many Native Veterans won’t pursue services because there are cultural barriers that prevent them from seeking help. Therefore, despite the reservations’ relatively proximity to the clinic, the VA leadership has identified the need to host future outreach events at the reservation to help provide services to more Veterans.
“Since I helped organize the event, Veterans were calling me every day until the day of to make sure we were coming,” Villegas said. “I ensured them that we could provide the resources in their area for as long as they continued to use them. The director gave her word, and we kept it. It was a great feeling when we showed up to know we could make a difference in people’s lives. The town halls are working. Veterans are expressing their concerns and opinions, and we are receiving that information.”
Dates for future outreach events on the White Mountain Apache Reservation have not been formalized, yet; however, future events will likely utilize the mobile medical unit to provide even greater service to the Veterans.Shuttle Service: Whiteriver – The shuttle will pick up at the American Legion Post 60 at 312 N. Chief Ave. The shuttle will be at the Legion from 7-7:15 a.m. (8-8:15 a.m. every 4th Wednesday). The shuttle will arrive at the Show Low CBOC by 8:15 a.m. (9:15 a.m. every 4th Wednesday).