Community Health Centers offer a hugely important service for Veterans and their unique behavioral, medical, and social service needs. On a national level, health centers serve nearly 400,000 patients who identify as Veterans, a rate that is steadily increasing.
In honor of Veterans Day, we interviewed Rodney Hummer, RN, BSN, who is both a Veteran and the Vice President of Strategy for the Missouri Primary Care Association. Rodney has a long history with Community Health Centers as a patient, Board Member, Clinic Manager, Director of Development and most recently as Interim CEO. He received the “Hometown Hero Award,” and the “Citizenship Award” as testament to his unwavering commitment to helping others.
NACHC: Tell us about your military career. How has it potentially influenced you to join the Health Center Movement?
Hummer: I went into the Air National Guard right out of high school and was trained as a combat medic. Soon thereafter volunteered for the Gulf War covering multiple medical roles throughout the tour. Upon return home, obtained my RN BSN, then commissioned as an officer. An FQHC (Federally Qualified Health Center) CEO, who was also prior military, sold me on the mission of the FQHC, and I joined his board of directors. From there I transitioned to a full-time employee running rural clinics for that FQHC. I was promoted to Director of Development, then ultimately CEO. From the FQHC I moved to working for the Missouri Primary Care Association where I currently provide training and technical assistance to our FQHCs all over the state.
All of my training in the military has prepared me to support the health center movement. State of the art training in medicine, working with other likeminded professionals focused on the same mission, evaluating and adjusting the strategic plan due to the changing environment, continual focus on performance improvement and outcomes, taking healthcare to the patient (such as with MASH units and mobile units), stackable development of staff through training/mentoring and an unwavering focus on achieving objectives and caring for our people. The mission and focus are the same, both in the military and in our FQHCs.
NACHC: Why should Community Health Centers, PCAs and other stakeholders still care for Veterans and their difficulties given there is a US Department of Veterans’ Affairs?
Hummer: Most people erroneously believe that if you served in the US Military, you would receive free healthcare for the rest of your life. When in fact, only about ½ of all Veterans qualify for care through the VA. As many Veterans fulfill their 4-year/6-year commitment, then move on to a civilian career, (unless they served in combat, retired with 20 years, or have a service-related disability), they don’t qualify for Veterans Administration (VA) care. Because of this, many Veterans obtain healthcare through our FQHCs either with their private insurance/Medicaid/Medicare or our sliding fee (uninsured) program.
That’s why its mission essential for health centers to accurately screen for Veteran status with “Have you ever served in the US Military or Armed Forces?” This includes Air Force, Army Coast Guard, Marines, Navy, National Guard or Reserves. Versus simply asking “Are you a Veteran?” Many FQHCs are caring for way more veterans, with unique needs, but are unaware because of the screening question. As the VA changes qualifying criteria, such as with the recent PACT ACT, FQHCs can assist the Veterans in sourcing the care they qualify for.
NACHC: What’s most rewarding about your work in helping Veterans?
Hummer: Helping Veterans who have fallen through the cracks who “no longer have a unit or base” and have been unable to find the help/assistance/purpose they desperately need.
NACHC: What’s most challenging? Do you have advice for others who might face similar challenges when helping Veterans?
Hummer: Any veterans don’t want to talk about their military service, yet need help, and may qualify for VA benefits. The biggest challenge is connecting with Veterans on a personal level and gaining their trust. After you have established this, you can help them access the care they need and qualify for.
NACHC: What’s one “small step” a reader of this blog can take that will make a difference or help improve Veterans health care?
Hummer: “Be the one”, this a mantra of the American Legion. You may think that your actions are insignificant, or that you are not qualified to make a difference. But for a Veteran who is down on their luck, struggling with life or addiction, your simple act of reaching out to help them…. may save their life.
NACHC: How has NACHC been a resource in supporting Veterans issues?
Hummer: NACHC has been wonderful to serve as a resource for Veteran outreach. Learning about best practices, emerging VA policy issues, and connecting with other health centers in this space has been invaluable to myself and many others.
LEARN MORE ABOUT HOW HEALTH CENTERS ASSIST VETERANS
NACHC Resources: NACHC creates resources to assist health centers serving veterans. Browse resources.
NACHC’s Veterans Interest Group (VIG) is an informal networking and information group intended to share promising practices, policy updates, and operational information regarding increased access to care and services for the Veteran populations served in community health centers. If you would like to receive Veterans-related updates via email from NACHC, please send your contact info to email@example.com. Previous updates and web recordings can be found at the bottom of this page: https://www.nachc.org/resource/supporting-our-nations-veterans/