The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides comprehensive health services to America’s Veterans, and VHA knows it can’t provide every service to every Veteran on its own. Partnerships between VHA and nongovernmental organizations result in broader services and more options for Veterans.

The VHA Community Partnership Challenge (CPC) is an annual contest that recognizes local and national partnerships serving Veterans. By spreading the word about successful partnerships and encouraging their replication across VA, the CPC is inspiring more VHA staff members to form partnerships of their own, further expanding the delivery of services.

Many of the partnerships considered for this year’s contest were identified by judges as “Veteran centered.” Partnerships are successful when they put Veterans’ needs first. One common partnership across VA is addressing gaps in Veterans’ food security, as many Veterans do not have sufficient access to nutritious food.

In the CPC’s first year, 2014, one of the winners was the food pantry at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago. Since then, a partnership with Feeding America has led to the creation of 18 food pantries at VA medical centers nationwide.

Connecting one meal at a time

This year, one of the CPC winners is the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System (CTHCS) partnership with the Salvation Army, called “Strengthening Connections One Meal at a Time.” Through this partnership, Veterans and community members in Waco and Temple, Texas, received meals donated by VA and served by the Salvation Army.

Brittany Zaring, a dietitian at CTHCS, said that the health care system has heard from other VHA employees looking for food pantry resources since the “Strengthening Connections” partnership was named a CPC winner.

“We’ve been able to share our journey with them,” Zaring said. “That’s been really great.”

Contest drives expansion of much needed services

Another partnership entered in the contest this year was the food pantry at the Dayton VA Medical Center, Ohio, in partnership with the Dayton Foodbank.

In 2014, the Jesse Brown VAMC raised awareness of the need for more food security initiatives, and other VA medical centers followed in its footsteps by collaborating with community partners and creating pantries of their own. Five years later, the CPC’s coordinators and supporters are hopeful that the contest will continue driving the expansion of much-needed services.

“The CPC provides great exposure to other partnerships and makes people say, ‘How can I do that?’” said Christine Going, co-chair of VA’s National Ensuring Veteran Food Security Work Group. “It raises awareness. As a result of the partnerships, everyone has a variety of resources available for their use and are not starting from ground zero.”

The CPC is administered by VHA’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE). To learn more about the CPC and OCE’s work, visit the OCE website:

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Published on Jul. 12, 2019

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