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Caregivers focus of new academy program

Adam Stump | U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Including Caregivers into Veterans’ medical teams was the focus of a launch event between VA and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation Jan. 31 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The Campaign for Inclusive Care Academy is a groundbreaking model for health care systems nationwide, said Sen. Elizabeth Dole, herself a Caregiver for her husband, Sen. Bob Dole.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole speaks at the Campaign for Inclusive Care Academy event Jan. 31 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

“We want to equip the doctors, nurses, social workers and frontline medical personnel across the entire VA health system with the latest strategies for integrating Caregivers into their Veterans’ medical teams,” she said.

The training focuses on Caregivers and Veterans receiving geriatric, polytrauma and traumatic brain injury care. Providers learn about three topics: the Caregiver’s journey, the value of clear and mutual communication, and Veterans Health Administration privacy policies. The training fits into VA’s mission to care for those who have borne the battle, said VA Chief Veterans Experience Officer Dr. Lynda Davis.

“This commitment to customer service reflects our longstanding held culture referred to in the I CARE values that the VA has,” Davis–herself a Veteran Caregiver—said. The I CARE acronym stands for Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence.

Previously, including Caregivers into Veteran care wasn’t consistent. Under the new program, VA medical personnel will ask Veterans if they want a Caregiver included in medical care.

“We all know we sit in with our kids and hear what the doctor has to say, but when you’re an adult, nobody says, ‘Do you need your husband or wife to sit in?’” said Lisa Pape, deputy chief officer of Patient Care Services at VA. She said the VA will now ask that question because Caregivers are with Veterans all the time.

“Most of the advocates for this are the Veterans who want that family member engaged,” said Steven Schwab, Elizabeth Dole Foundation chief executive officer. He said the new program should set a new standard for VA and civilian health care. Schwab said major health care systems such as the Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic and Sanford Health are already following the program.

The program will start with three Veterans Integrated Service Networks, or VISNs. The three are VISN 10, headquartered in Ohio and covering parts of the Midwest; VISN 17, headquartered in Texas; and VISN 20, headquartered in Washington and covering the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. In roughly two years, the program will expand to all VA facilities.

The Campaign for Inclusive Care Academy has several goals. One is helping VA identify Caregivers and make them part of the team. Equipping Caregivers to promote more positive clinical outcomes is another goal. The program also aims to enhance VA’s Choose Home program and improve care in the home. The last goal is to ensure that the information VA receives about Caregivers is respected and remains private.

VA started meeting with the Veterans’ Family, Caregiver, and Survivor Advisory Committee in October 2017. In September 2018, the Elizabeth Dole Center of Excellence for Veteran and Caregiver Research started. The Joint Campaign for Inclusive Care launched in October 2019.

Research published in the June 2019 edition of the journal Health Affairs showed VA and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s progress on a Veteran’s health care treatment.

The report was “Including Family Caregivers in Seriously Ill Veterans’ Care: A Mixed-Methods Study.” Duke University led the research and emphasized caregiver inclusion identified in the VA – Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Campaign for Inclusive Care, which strengthens health care and is a model for improving care in the private sector. The Campaign for Inclusive Care is one of several initiatives and programs through which VA supports Veterans’ caregivers.

Active Duty