I was sitting in my office at the VA Hospital when I heard someone knocking at the door. I opened it and saw an attractive, well-groomed woman with bright clear eyes beaming at me saying, “Do you remember me?” I must confess I did not recognize her, and it wasn't until I saw the name on her ID card that I realized who she was. I was astounded at the sight I saw and the transformation that had taken place over a few short months.
This 38-year-old woman Veteran had come to our emergency department eight months prior looking frail, grim, absolutely hopeless, and quite ill. She was anemic, had poor hygiene, and had not eaten in two days. She, a single mother of two teenage girls, was living in a shelter as were her daughters, none of whom even possessed toothpaste.
She had served in the army for over two years, in the artillery division, and had been stationed abroad while her children stayed with their grandmother in the States. She had been a victim of domestic violence prior to joining the military and also experienced military sexual trauma during her years of active duty, resulting in posttraumatic stress disorder as well as tremendous anxiety and chronic gastrointestinal discomfort.
This Veteran had gone to some outreach programs but her needs were not met and she remained quite ill and depressed. Unsure of her Veteran's benefits, she finally came to our emergency department with pleas of help for herself and her daughters. The woman's then-homeless children were too distraught to attend school and were living in deplorable, unsafe circumstances with no personal belongings.
Fortunately, we were able to provide immediate medical help and arrange for substantial follow-up care with mental health providers and primary care physicians as well as the Social Service Department. Over the span of several months when I had not seen her, this wonderful woman and her children thrived. They were able to obtain housing and maintain a nutritional diet, and the girls returned to school and were doing well. Although unable to find employment, she is working in the Compensated Work Therapy Program in our hospital, which gives Veterans a chance to improve job-related skills while recovering from mental health and physical problems.
Our VA had transformed the frail, desperate, ill, and depressed homeless Veteran into an energetic, beautiful, smiling woman with hope and a new life. We are determined to repeat this for many others.