Greetings Veterans - In our last edition of The Fourteener, I introduced myself to all of you as your new Director and spoke about my commitment to Veterans, service and the VA. In this edition, I would like to share some of our accomplishments from last fiscal year. As the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System—which includes one hospital, 11 outlying clinics, a domiciliary, a community living center, a walk-in community resource and referral center and a residential PTSD rehabilitation unit—we collectively provided care to more than 95,000 Veterans, completed 1 million outpatient appointments and conducted almost 5,000 surgeries. I am dedicated to making 2020 an even bigger year for this organization. We plan to open our brand-new Fisher House this spring and break ground on a stand-alone residential PTSD building on the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center campus. In addition to these infrastructure additions, my priorities for this year include increasing your satisfaction with your health care, increasing access and showing all of you why you should continue to choose VA for your health care needs. I want to talk with you to hear what is going well and learn how we could be doing better. I want to have innovative conversations about our way forward with your care. It is my intent to visit all of our clinics at least once a quarter to get out and meet with our Veterans and staff. Please look out for our community engagements, town halls and events on social media and our website moving forward because you are crucial to our collective success. I look forward to meeting you and hearing your story. Together we can make a difference! ~Michael T. Kilmer
PFC James Dunn VA Clinic: Familiar, friendly faces
Rich in history, the deep-rooted Pueblo, Colorado community is home to PFC Dunn VA Clinic—the center of health care for more than 18,000 Veterans annually.
Once a booming steel-producing town, leading the West into the industrial revolution, Pueblo is a ‘big small town’, according to Debbie Pruitt, medical support assistant supervisor at the clinic.
Connection is at the core for the health care professionals who serve their Veteran neighbors at the Pueblo clinic. Nurse Manager Angela Wilkerson says the clinic feels like a community mom-and-pop practice with a family environment. “We all work very well together here sharing the same goal of taking care of our Veterans,” she said.
“When they walk into the lobby, Veterans are greeted by familiar, friendly faces,” Pruitt said. “They recognize us. Many of us went to the same school together growing up.”
When Army Veteran Zuleima Torres Cruz went to VA for a routine appointment in March, she found out she would soon become a mother—to her surprise!
But after quickly learning that VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System (ECHCS) is home to a comprehensive Women Veterans Health Care Program, she knew she’d be in supportive hands.
Today at eight-months pregnant, Torres Cruz reflected on why she chose VA maternity services for the birth of her first child. “Since I’ve been a patient at the VA for nine years, they already have a record of my medical history,” Torres Cruz said. “And now at this point in my life of becoming a mother, VA provides care that integrates with my needs.”
Integration is at the heart of VA’s Women Veterans Health Care Program which is designed to ensure timely, continuous care throughout different stages in a Veteran’s life by offering primary care, OB/GYN services and mental health care. VA can also provide mammography, cancer screening, Military Sexual Trauma (MST) care and counseling. Pregnancy prevention and planning services are also offered.
For Veterans who become pregnant, VA provides prenatal care up to 12 weeks at VA and community prenatal care until delivery. Additional benefits include lactation education, supplies, product consultation and support groups.
Throughout their pregnancy, Veterans work directly with an assigned maternal care coordinator who helps expectant mothers navigate their health care needs both within and outside of VA. Over the course of a woman’s pregnancy, this relationship continues to grow through monthly check-ins. Two weeks after the baby is born, the new mothers meet with their OB/GYN provider for a postpartum assessment.
If there’s one thing every warrior understands well, it is how to adapt. When Jatáya Taylor, a natural athlete, experienced a series of U.S. Marine Corps training injuries that would not heal, she didn’t choose to give up – instead, she found a new way to adapt.
After leaving the military, Taylor was diagnosed with a rare connective tissue disorder. Her condition worsened over time and by 2013 she was using a wheelchair full-time.
Feeling displaced, Taylor soon discovered the Adaptive Sports Grant Program through the National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events Office (NVSP&SE). The VA-facilitated program works with countless community partners providing an array of adaptive sports opportunities that can serve as recreation therapy.
It wasn’t long before Taylor competed in her first national game where recruiters observed her athletic abilities at the 2014 National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Philadelphia. A recruiter asked if she wanted to try competing in a biathlon (a winter sport combining cross-country skiing and rifling shooting). “When I asked what it was, he said it was a type of skiing that required a lot of hard work. It’s funny because that was actually part of what sold me on it,” Taylor said.
For Taylor, the adaptive sports program became a way to return to her athletic roots and enjoy the outdoors. It also “keeps my mental health strong,” she said.
Even after electing to amputate her left leg in 2017 to improve quality of life, there’s been no sign of Taylor slowing down. Year-round, you’ll find her either competing in national biathlons or basketball games —her two passions.
Taylor finds camaraderie while training with fellow service members and connects with other athletes who’ve undergone amputation. She keeps busy swimming and training between tournaments. The adaptive sports program has become such a fundamental part of Taylor’s life, she said she doesn’t know what she would do without it.