As any VA employee can tell you, Veterans do not fit a specific mold. Yet, many Veterans feel VA is not set up to care for their specific health care needs. This is especially true for LGBTQ+ Veterans, who are at an increased risk for suicide. This is partly because of health care disparities within VA.

The PRIDE program educates both Veterans and VA medical center staff.

The PRIDE in All Who Served (PRIDE) practice helps VA employees engage with these Veterans. The program delivers better care and shows these Veterans that VA is a place that welcomes them–a place that serves all who served.

PRIDE is a 10-week health education program that focuses on reducing health care disparities. Group facilitators follow a session-by-session manual with corresponding Veteran handouts on each topic. The manual includes information about how to access relevant services within the Veterans Health Administration system.

During sessions, participants focus on improving their overall wellness, increasing social connection and empowering Veterans to engage in services related to their personal health care needs.

“I have found others who support me”

Veterans who have attended the program are linked to a reduced likelihood of attempting suicide in the future, and reduced anxiety and concern about not being accepted. They also have an increased feeling of safety and protection through engagement in the community and certainty in their own identity.

One Veteran shared, “Since coming to the group, I no longer want to kill myself. I have found others who support me.”

Drs. Tiffany Lange-Altman and Michelle M. Hilgeman, PRIDE program creators, pose with Blake Henderson, director of the Diffusion of Excellence program.

PRIDE does not just support Veterans. The program also includes literacy training for employees so they can better understand and engage with the LGBTQ+ Veterans they serve. This training provides an understanding of not only the specific types of care LGBTQ+ Veterans need, but also the tools to work with LGBTQ+ Veterans who may struggle with issues of acceptance, identity and belonging.

From humble beginnings

PRIDE began at the Hampton VA Medical Center and spread further with help from the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center. The program then received support from the VHA Innovators Network Spark-Seed-Spread Innovation Investment Program to further develop and build out its resources.

With this support, PRIDE is available in 15 medical centers around the country, with more sites in the process of planning their first group. More than 600 VHA staff were trained in 2019, reaching more than 275 Veterans (55% women, 27% racial/ethnic minority Veterans). Now, PRIDE is one of the first practices to take part in the VHA Diffusion Academy, a new program that takes advanced, successful innovations and develops them for national roll out.

“It has been incredible to see employees and Veterans engage with this program and the impact on the lives of the Veterans we serve. We couldn’t be more excited to bring PRIDE to even more medical centers,” said the program’s creators, Drs. Tiffany Lange-Altman and Michelle Hilgeman, pictured above.

Dr. Tiffany Lange-Altman is a clinical psychologist at the Hampton VA Medical Center; Dr. Michelle M. Hilgeman is a clinical psychologist for the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center.

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Published on Mar. 23, 2020

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