The group began the day with the opportunity to meet briefly with Senator Johnny Isakson, the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the Ethics Committee. They were then able to meet with the Professional Staff Members who handle healthcare for the Veterans Affairs Committee. The group was able to inquire about some of the potential complications of the recently enacted Mission Act, which changes eligibility for community care for veterans. The group learned that the act creates a Community Care Network, which is a partnership with providers outside of the VA. The Community Care Network is comprised of providers that meet certain quality and performance metrics, and it allows direct health information sharing between the VA and the community providers to allow for continuity of care. The hope is to provide expanded services and improved payments. The group inquired whether this increase in community referrals will decrease the amount of new services that are brought into the VA system, especially those related to women’s health, however the answer remained unclear. The VA Nursing Academic Partnership students in the group were excited to hear that there is a contract to update the outdated Electronic Health Record system, and that the committee is aware of the way that the long, slow hiring process deters applicants from working at the VA. After serving lunch to homeless veterans yesterday, the group was also glad to learn that there are programs to conduct outreach to register homeless veterans for housing and case management services through HUD VASH (Housing and Urban Development Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing). This was good to learn as members of the group have encountered homeless veterans who did not realize that they qualify for these services, and doing community outreach will help to educate and recruit.
To end the day, the group visited Arlington National Cemetery. The cemetery is on a property that began as a place to assist slaves transitioning to freedom, and became a burial location when Civil War casualties began to outpace other local cemeteries. The cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400,000 active duty service members, veterans, and their families. The large property amazed the group, as the precise lines of white headstones were vast. The group was able to begin to see the enormity of the volume of military service members through the years, and realized how likely it will be that they will encounter someone from this population whether they work in the VA or not. The group was able to visit the nurses memorial, and pay respect to the nurses who risked their lives to care for others. The group also visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which holds the remains of unknown service members from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, and observed the changing of the guard. The Tomb Guard paces 21 steps, faces east for 21 seconds, and then north for 21 seconds to symbolize the highest military honor, the 21 gun salute. The guard holds their weapon on the side closest to the crowd to symbolize that they stand in between the tomb and any possible threat. It was amazing to have time to pay respect to the men and women who have served this country, and also see a bit of military tradition in person. It helped the group to more tangibly understand the military’s commitment to dignity, camaraderie, tradition, service, and sacrifice. The lessons from today will help the group better care for the military and veteran population as they progress in their careers.