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A Model of Integrated Care for Veterans with Community Clergy

Rev. E. Terri Lavelle and Dr. Jason Nieuwsma serve as Director, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP) and the Associate Director, VA Mental Health and Chaplaincy respectively discuss the important partnership between health care providers and faith-based leaders in providing holistic care to veterans and service members.

As a registered nurse and ordained clergy, I know the significant impact building spiritual care into a health care model will have in meeting the needs of Veterans and Service members in a holistic way.  Engaging local faith leaders as learners and teachers in this development, we ensure Veterans get the best care at VA facilities and in the communities where they and their families reside.

So, it was a great privilege to participate in the VA Mental Health and Chaplaincy Forum on September 1-2, 2011, The forum was led by Dr. Keith Meador, a psychiatrist and practical theologian, and Dr. Jason Nieuwsma, a psychologist who serve as Director and Associate Director of VA’s Mental Health and Chaplaincy program, respectively.  The forum consisted of experts from a myriad of professions:  chaplaincy, mental health, primary care, government, uniformed services, academia, and community organizations.  Attendees examined the relationships between spirituality and health and brainstormed about how chaplains, clergy, and other spiritual care providers might be optimally integrated into a public health model that better addresses the complex health needs of Veterans, Service members, and their families.

Chaplain Cantrell noted that "it was exciting to see so many senior-level providers, program leaders, and military in attendance who, in addition to treating the mental and medical health needs of our Service members and Veterans, also expressed an interest and desire to respond to the spiritual needs of these populations."

The forum also emphasized the importance of including faith-based leaders and representatives in the continuum of VA and Department of Defense (DoD) care.  Many clinicians and chaplains highlighted the potential role of chaplains as liaisons between faith-based community leaders, health care providers, family members, and the Veteran or Service member.  Specifically, VA Chaplain Andrew Sioleti discussed an ongoing outreach program at the Manhattan VA Medical Center that reaches Veterans through faith communities and university systems to connect about VA care. 

The VA Mental Health and Chaplaincy program will use the forum as part of a joint VA/DoD Integrated Mental Health Strategy, to enhance continuity of care for Veterans.  Dr. Meador said, "We feel that chaplains and community clergy have a pivotal role to play not only in the ongoing care of our Veterans but also in helping them successfully transition from active duty to civilian life.  We're very excited about the ongoing opportunities for collaboration and integration."  For more information on the VA Mental Health and Chaplaincy program, please visit the program website.

Rev. E. Terri LaVelle serves as Director, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP) and Dr. Jason Nieuwsma is the Associate Director, VA Mental Health and Chaplaincy