MURFREESBORO — A partnership between MTSU and the local VA facility in support of student veterans has earned national Veterans Affairs honors.
Dr. David Shulkin, under secretary of Veterans Affairs for Health, announced the award during a recent teleconference with representatives from the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center at MTSU and the Alvin C. York Campus of the VA Tennessee Valley Healthcare System in Murfreesboro.
MTSU officials joined VA personnel and administrators for the announcement at the York VA campus. Winners of the 2016 Veterans Health Administration Community Partnership Challenge included:
• San Francisco VA Health Care System.
• Tennessee Valley Healthcare System.
• Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts.
The Office of Geriatrics and Extended Care, Hospice and Pallative Care earned an honorable mention.
The purpose of the national Community Partnership Challenge spotlighted successful nonmonetary partnerships with nongovernmental organizations that help meet the needs of veterans, caregivers, survivors and families. The contest theme was “Veteran Access to Health Care Services with Special Emphasis on Replicable Partnerships.”
Keith M. Huber, senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives, veterans center director Hilary Miller and Heather Conrad, VetSuccess on Campus director, represented MTSU.
“There has been unbelievable commitment from the VA to being accessible to veterans it cares for,” Miller said. “One of the most remarkable things about our center is the strong relationship we have with the VA.”
Suzanne Jené, interim Health System director of the Tennessee Valley Health System, said the partnership between TVHS and MTSU “reflects exactly the kind of involvement the VA wants to have in our communities.”
“By virtue of having this center right on the MTSU campus, we are able to reach our veterans where they spend the majority of their days,” she added. “This affords them the convenience to stop by any time they have a question or concern, without having to schedule an appointment.”
“To be honored and receive national recognition, as one of only three Department of Veterans Affairs facilities in the nation to provide this extraordinary level of community partnership and support, reflects upon the hard work and dedication that went into making the center a reality — from both MTSU and TVHS,” Jené said.
“It also opens up a wealth of new possibilities,” she added. “The idea of VA medical centers collaborating, sharing resources and partnering with their local communities to open more veteran centers on college campuses is a textbook definition of what the ‘MyVA’ (putting veterans first) initiative is all about.”
Tennessee Valley Healthcare System has partnered with MTSU to provide comprehensive VA benefits and health care services to student veterans. VA staff has offices in the veterans center inside Keathley University Center in the heart of the campus. Veterans do not need an appointment to see trained staff regarding their mental health care, education and other VA health care services and benefits.
In particular, Leigh Urbanavage, assistant chief of behavioral health for Tennessee Valley Healthcare System, has proven to be a tremendous asset while serving in an interim capacity in the veterans center until Betty Struzick, a fulltime VA employee, arrives in June.
“It’s such a great feeling when I know she is in the center,” Miller said of Urbanavage. “She has the ability to help people, so I am always thankful when she’s here.”
In addition to the commitment of the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System, the benefits arm of the VA has also shown unwavering support of the center, Miller said. Every Wednesday, they send staff to the center for “VA Wednesdays.”
“After just a handful of these VA Wednesdays, it was estimated that approximately $175,000 in claims was processed for the MTSU veterans,” Miller added.
Miller said the center is “the proud host of a VetSuccess on Campus counselor,” with Heather Conrad filling that role for the first university in Tennessee with a VetSuccess on Campus for student veterans.
“Ms. Conrad is a master’s-level counselor herself so we are able to approach counseling needs from both the benefits and the house side of the VA,” Miller said.
“Working with veterans is complex and requires collaboration,” Miller added. “If we are to be successful, we need to leverage each other’s resources. Furthermore, the work we do is too important not to be successful. We owe this level of specialized care to our veterans. We just do.”
To learn more about the Veterans and Military Family Center, visit http://www.mtsu.edu/military/index.php or call 615-904-8347.