Three years ago, the Health Research and Educational Trust of New Jersey, and affiliate of the New Jersey Hospital Association, charged a group of Armed Forces veterans with a new mission: to connect vulnerable residents of the state with needed healthcare and support services. At the end of this grant-funded initiative, 34,441 New Jerseyans – including more than 18,000 veterans – have been reached by the NJHA Veteran Navigators.
Through the Serving Those Who Served program, 10 Navigators went into their communities to reach veterans, military families and other special populations.
They assisted 278 people with connecting to primary care or mental health care; assisted 179 people with enrolling for health insurance; connected 369 veterans with their military benefits; provided health coaching for 330 people; and completed more than 700 educational presentations before 32,874 attendees on military culture and mental health first aid.
According to the National Institutes of Health, military service members and veterans face health issues differently than civilians. The stressors of being in combat, combined with being separated from family, can put service members and veterans at risk for mental health problems.
These include anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse and depression that, in extreme circumstances, can lead to suicide. According to a study commissioned by the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and United Health Foundation, there is a preparedness gap among most community-based mental health providers in being able to take care of the special needs of military veterans and their families.
The Navigators’ one-on-one work with veterans demonstrates the breadth and depth of challenges facing the military community. Don Sanford, an Air Force veteran from Pennsauken, has connected hospitalized veterans with services ranging from Veterans Administration health insurance to long-term care and housing to transportation services. He said the peer-to-peer communication is key in getting these veterans to open up about their needs.
Michael Mimms of Sicklerville, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, is another dedicated Navigator for Serving Those Who Served. “Vets can get things done,” he said. “I’m grateful to be part of something that helps others.”
The Veteran Navigators completed 7,100 one-on-one visits over the course of three years. Other accomplishments include:
- 1,312 services provided to veterans
- 17,355 veterans attended educational presentations
- 1,406 military family members reached.
The Veteran Navigators, in addition to connecting patients to care, presented to healthcare providers around the state on the unique culture of the military and veteran life, as well as the prevalence of mental health and substance use disorders among those populations. Among the providers who received this training, 91 percent gave feedback saying their knowledge of service-related health issues was excellent or good after the sessions.
In order to reach as many people as possible, the Navigators created unique ways to be visible and accessible. They partnered with the N.J. Department of Health’s Mobile Satellite Emergency Department (MSED) unit and NJHA member hospitals to provide free health screenings to veterans at events like the Power in the Pines Air Show and at the Wildwood boardwalk during the N.J. Elks annual convention.
Serving Those Who Served was funded through two grants, one from the United Health Foundation’s Veterans Mental Health Care Navigators project and one from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Partnership for Patients Community-Based Pilot Project to Reduce Readmissions.
With the completion of these two grant programs, the Navigators are currently working to help vulnerable patients with diabetes connect to appropriate care through a grant from the N.J. Department of Health. Their area of focus is Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties and will run through September 2019.
For more information on the Veteran Navigator program and Serving Those Who Served, visit the Facebook page www.facebook.com/ServingThoseWhoServed/
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