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VA Brings Health Care To New Martinsville

By Staff | Feb 4, 2009

The team from the Community and Rural Health Care Program for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in West Virginia that visits Wetzel County once a month includes, from left: Paul Blake, LPN; Danielle Chefren, social worker; Dr. Sidney Jackson, MD, CRHCP director; Jim Ninehouser, driver; and Criss Bragg, RN.

Dr. Sidney B. Jackson is the definition of passion. He has an “intense, driving, or overmastering conviction” and he is bringing that fire to Wetzel County on a monthly basis.

As the director of the Community and Rural Health Care Program for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in West Virginia, Jackson is on a mission to provide health care to more veterans in West Virginia.

Roughly 14.4 percent of the population of West Virginia is veterans and Jackson thinks they can be better served through the program he is leading. Since West Virginia is a very rural state, actually the second most rural state in the country as indicated by percentage of the state population living in rural areas, he is passionate that veterans here need better access to VA health care.

That is happening through the Community and Rural Health Care Program (CRHCP) out of the Louis A. Johnson VA Healthcare System in Clarksburg, one of only four VA facilities nationwide approved for the program.

For this flagship program, Wetzel County is one of six federally designated rural counties, along with Preston, Randolph, Upshur, Taylor, and Roane, that are receiving a special focus in this program.

The key service offered through this multi-pronged program is a Rural Mobile Health Unit that brings the VA to the veteran instead of the usual practice of veterans requiring sometimes long and difficult trips to VA health care facilities. A team of five is focusing on preventative health care screening, mental health outreach, influenza/pneumonia vaccinations, and routine primary care.

The preventative health screenings offered by the team include post traumatic stress disorder and mental health services, diabetes screening and care, high blood pressure checks and care, cholesterol screening, smoking and tobacco cessation, alcohol awareness, foot care, addressing women’s veterans issues, and vaccinations.

Currently the team is available at American Legion Post #28 in New Martinsville from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of every month. However, Jackson said in the summer months they will begin their services at an earlier time. Any veteran can just walk into the clinic without an appointment or prior registration in the VA system. They will work with new enrollees to get the proper approval which is sometimes virtually instantaneous.

“If they’re a veteran, we’ll sign them up. They have pre-paid into this plan through their military service,” said Jackson. In fact, veterans need not even live in West Virginia to visit the clinic in New Martinsville. “We want to provide care for every veteran that we can,” stresses Jackson.

While they are currently set up at the legion, Jackson said the location of the unit may change once they receive their large walk-in mobile unit in March or April. They will need to find a place to park the massive rolling clinic, but hope to keep it near the Legion in downtown New Martinsville.

The location of the services is very important to Jackson. “The main thing we want to do is make it accessible. We want to talk, listen, and develop relationships,” he said. However, veterans often don’t seek health care for a variety of reasons, sometimes because they are uncomfortable in the clinical setting. The legion is often a place that is very familiar and comfortable.

That factor is particularly important when dealing with mental health issues that require a comfortable setting where a veteran can share what is on his mind. This is particularly important for veterans of the Vietnam War who are more prone to suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, the National Vietnam Veteran Readjustment Survey conducted in 1988 found that 15.2 percent of male and 8.5 percent of female Vietnam veterans currently have PTSD, approximately 486,500 men and women nationwide. There are even prone to suffer from partial PTSD with milder or sometimes rare symptoms.

Jackson pointed out that just recently the number of suicides among Vietnam veterans has eclipsed the number of United States casualties from the war. That is a trend that needs to be stopped and the team visiting New Martinsville hopes to be part of letting veterans talk about their issues and understand how PTSD can affect their life.

Understanding the disorder through talking with a social worker such as team member Danielle Chefren can aid veterans tremendously. They will come to realize they are not alone in their way of thinking and can recognize flashbacks if they occur.

“You give someone hope. You can see it on their face,” said Jackson of the team’s work. “When someone is lost they need hope.”

While veterans may often fail to seek medical care, Jackson believes that is almost contradictory to the military philosophy and he hopes other veterans will agree with his thinking. Soldiers want to take care of themselves, their comrades, their families, and their communities. By keeping their health in check through regular doctor visits, a veteran is better able to care for his or her family and community.

As for a veteran’s comrades, they can benefit from other veterans’ health care in what is perhaps an unconventional way. Jackson points out that every man or woman who gets registered into the VA system adds to the count used for government funding. That may sound political, but it is true and Jackson believes it falls in line with the military philosophy of sharing and helping fellow soldiers. “We share everything we’ve got. We’ll share until the end,” quoted the United States Air Force Colonel. “If another former soldier can benefit because I am registered in the VA health care system, then I am happy to help.

Jackson is also hoping more legions and VFWs in West Virginia, particularly the ones where the clinics are held, will consider installing wireless internet capabilities. Not only would it aid the team in accessing needed records while they set up shop for the day, but Jackson said it would be a great draw to bring younger veterans to such organizations to become involved and plugged into the society of former military members. “We’re trying to reach those younger veterans,” said the doctor.

“We can’t miss opportunities,” stresses Jackson. And he sees this new program as a great opportunity for veterans and West Virginia. “I hope we can begin to elevate and influence the health consciousness of West Virginia,” he said.