Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald will visit UD on Monday, March 2.

March 2: VA secretary to visit

Veterans Affairs Secretary McDonald to visit UD's Health Sciences Complex


1:22 p.m., Feb. 26, 2015--U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald will visit the University of Delaware on Monday afternoon, March 2, and speak to College of Health Sciences students and faculty as part of a recruiting initiative aimed at encouraging up-and-coming health professionals to come to work for VA facilities and expand access to care for men and women who have served in the military.

The event will be held from 2-3:30 p.m. Monday in the atrium of the Health Sciences Complex on UD’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus. Attendees are asked to register for the event at this website.

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Nationally, the VA has grappled with a shortage of clinicians and health care professionals, and this dearth of providers has been cited as one of the reasons for the lengthy care delays that have plagued VA medical centers across the country.

To that end, McDonald has embarked on a national recruitment effort at nursing and medical schools across the country. Previous stops have included Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, Dartmouth College and Howard University. 

McDonald has served as VA secretary since last July, when he was nominated by President Barack Obama. Political experts viewed McDonald’s selection as an effort to overhaul a sprawling department that was scarred by the scandal over long patient waiting times at some VA centers.

Prior to joining the VA, McDonald was chairman, president and chief executive officer of the Procter & Gamble Co. He also is an Army veteran, both Airborne and Ranger qualified, serving with the 82nd Airborne Division. Upon leaving military service, McDonald was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.

UD’s selection as a stop on this VA recruitment effort speaks to the strength of the School of Nursing, director Kathleen Schell said. 

“We have a reputation for being rigorous in our graduate and undergraduate programs. Our nurse practitioner and clinical nurse specialist certification rates are above the national average,” Schell said, noting that about half of nursing students secure a job before graduation and the rest typically find employment a few months later once they have passed their licensing exams.

“We support innovative models of health care, such as that found in our own Nurse Managed Health Center,” she said. “The NMHC provides holistic, interdisciplinary care, led and coordinated by nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners are much needed in the VA health system.” 

Schell said students aren’t exposed to the career opportunities available through the VA system, and some mistakenly think they need military experience themselves.

“They are unaware of the variety of services that are available with the VA or they have an outdated view,” she added. “I think some nurses don’t realize the benefits and pay that are offered there. There are opportunities for mentorship, leadership and career advancement.” 

As part of the effort to recruit more health professionals, the VA has collaborated on academic partnerships with some universities to create mutually beneficial programs between nursing schools and VA facilities. Pay also has been increased for healthcare professionals to make the jobs more competitive with the private sector. 

And last year, the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 extended and increased the existing educational assistance program and increased the maximum reimbursement for educational debt from $60,000 to $120,000.

“Under Secretary McDonald’s leadership, the VA is leading the effort to provide the health care needed for our nation’s service members to reach optimal function,” said Steven J. Stanhope, director of the BADER Consortium, which is housed at UD’s STAR Campus. 

The BADER Consortium was created in 2011 with a $19.7 million Department of Defense cooperative agreement. BADER supports orthopedic rehabilitation research to help service members with limb loss or limb difference reach the highest levels of function and return to their work and life activities.

“The work being done at VA centers across the country is critical if our nation is going to be successful in efforts to reduce the cost of care -- particularly for those with chronic health conditions -- and improve outcomes for all patients,” Stanhope added. 

Despite the ramping down of the wars, the number of veterans seeking health care services will only grow as they age and their needs become more complex. It’s important for nursing and health care students at UD to know they have the potential to make a big difference in these veterans’ lives, said Schell. 

“There are so many servicemen and women who have returned from war, not only with physical injuries but also suffering from issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or substance abuse. Nurses can do a lot in these situations,” she added.

The School of Nursing recently submitted a proposal to offer a family psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner program, with hopes of admitting students in the fall of 2016. 

Article by Kelly Bothum

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