Cleveland VA seeks veterans to provide health care

CLEVELAND — There are approximately 134,000 veterans in Northeast Ohio. Not everyone chooses and does not always manage to make their health a top priority. As part of News 5 Anchor Rob Powers’ ongoing series, Your Service, he learned there’s a new effort to bring health care to veterans who might be on a bumpy road.

The Cleveland VA Medical Center recently launched a Mobile Medical Unit (MMU) to serve as a lifeline. It is an examination room on wheels that moves from one location to another.

“I can bring you the appointment,” Robert Jones told Powers. Jones is a registered nurse, driver and confidant; he does everything. It starts with actively seeking out veterans.

This involves some strategy. Veterans may be on the streets, in a shelter or facility. Navy veteran Jesse Markko served on submarines and told Powers that having health care on wheels made it easier to take time for your health. He hoped that by doing so he could set an example.

“If we can help the next guy who wouldn’t normally take this moment to leave, that will be a blessing to me in return,” he said.

Kevin Burke is an Army veteran who enjoyed the convenience of being able to rely on MMU to help in many ways. It offers physical health, mental health and social services, all part of a comprehensive health care package.

“In ways you could never imagine, these people help me,” he said.

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Gary Abrahamsen

News 5 anchor Rob Powers talks with Army veteran Kevin Burke outside the mobile medical unit at the Cleveland VA Medical Center

More than 35,000 veterans are homeless. Hundreds are here in Ohio. Many cannot or do not want to seek health care. It’s an issue that Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough has said he is committed to working on.

McDonough visited the Cleveland VA Medical Center on Wednesday to hold a town hall meeting with veterans. Afterward, News 5 was the only television station on site when McDonough answered questions from reporters. After hearing the concerns and issues veterans faced over the previous 90 minutes, he knew their trust had been broken.

“You can lose confidence in the blink of an eye,” he said. “And it takes a long time to rebuild it. We take this very seriously.

McDonough said the VA is working to get homeless veterans into permanent, not transitional, housing. The goal is to house 38,000 veterans each year since 2022. So far, he said the agency has exceeded that goal every time. McDonough said services like MMU in Northeast Ohio go a long way in restoring that trust.

“It’s a manifestation of that effort to build trust with these veterans and provide care for them. To say, “We care so much about you and what you have done for this country that we care for you.” »

McDonough remembers a homeless outreach coordinator who told him he spoke with a veteran more than 70 times before coming to the center for services. According to him, it is this type of commitment that will restore this trust.

He detailed a housing-first approach to serving our nation’s veterans. The secretary said once a veteran is in that permanent housing, other issues they may face, like substance abuse, mental health, employment or trouble with the justice system, become more manageable. That’s why, he says, it’s so encouraging to see initiatives like MMU reaching out into communities to meet veterans where they are.

At the MMU stop in front of Stella Maris, Navy veteran Johnny Sims was among those hoping to lead by example.

“If I go down, they feel more comfortable,” he told Rob. “They ask me what happened, I tell them, and they’ll be eager to come down themselves.”

There are 25 of these mobile units across the country, looking for veterans who, for one reason or another, need this unit and these people in their lives.

“I used to tell people, ‘You can’t love a job, you can only love people,’” Jones said. “I’m starting to discover that maybe I can love people and a job.”

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