During this 2016 Public Service Recognition Week, two VA employees have been named as finalists for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal. The award highlights excellence in the federal workforce and inspires other talented and dedicated individuals to go into public service.
The Service to America Medal are the Oscars of government service — a highly respected honor with a vigorous selection process. Named for the Partnership for Public Service’s late founder who was inspired by President Kennedy’s call to serve in 1963, these awards align with his vision of a dynamic and innovative federal workforce that meets the needs of the American people.
Dr. Thomas O’Toole
Director, National Center on Homelessness among Veterans, Veterans Health Administration, Providence, Rhode Island
Thomas O’Toole created two nationwide programs to help high-risk, high-need homeless Veterans receive the comprehensive medical care, housing assistance and social services they need to get off the street and reclaim their lives.
While working as a primary care doctor at a VA hospital in Rhode Island a decade ago, O’Toole realized that large numbers of homeless Veterans and those at risk of winding up on the streets were not receiving the medical care or the housing assistance, food and social services they desperately needed.
He responded by establishing a clinic that integrated medical care and support services for Veterans — an initiative that has since expanded into a national program now available at 62 VA medical facilities. O’Toole followed this successful pioneering effort by creating a second national project now operating at those 62 medical facilities that identifies and helps homeless Veterans who repeatedly need acute medical services.
Anne Barker Dunn
Deputy Director, Homeless Programs Office, Veterans Health Administration, Washington, D.C.
Anne Barker Dunn reduced recidivism among Veterans caught up in the criminal justice system and lowered their chances of becoming homeless by providing housing, job counseling and mental health and drug treatment services.
For years, Veterans who had encounters with the criminal justice system, often as a result of mental health or substance abuse problems, did not receive any special assistance. Many ended up homeless or in prison, and when freed from jail, had no support to help them reenter society and lead productive lives.
Today, two programs led by Dunn and her team from the Veterans Health Administration are helping Veterans who have had problems with the law receive the assistance and treatment they need.
The Health Care for Reentry Veterans program provides assessment services for incarcerated Veterans and information they can use to plan for life outside prison walls. The program also offers released inmates access to medical, psychiatric and social services as well as employment help.
A second initiative, the Veterans Justice Outreach program, helps Veterans who have had interactions with law enforcement or have been jailed briefly for offenses that did not result in prison time. This program involves field staff who work with special Veteran treatment courts to keep individuals out of jail and help them with mental health issues, substance abuse problems and housing needs.
The Partnership for Public Service is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose mission is to help make our government more effective, and the Service to America Medal, or “Sammies,” honors the many exceptional federal workers who are doing just that — breaking down barriers, overcoming huge challenges and getting results.
Whether they’re defending the homeland, protecting the environment, ensuring public safety, making scientific and medical discoveries or responding to natural and man-made disasters, these men and women put service before self and make a lasting difference.