Innovation Breakthroughs: Working with the Community to Save Veteran Lives
Revolutionary is a regular series in the VHA Innovation Ecosystem, focused on VA employees who disrupt the status quo, break down barriers, and attempt to radically revolutionize veteran care and the employee experience. Here are the stories of two revolutionaries.
As an outreach social worker for the homeless in Long Beach VA, Shannon Teague was used to getting calls from law enforcement about veterans in crisis. At the same time, Tyrone “T-Bone” Anderson was serving as a community police officer when his boss approached him about a Veterans Mental Assessment Team (VMET) program. Having worked together before, T-Bone knew Teague was the perfect partner to launch the pilot program in 2018.
By participating in the VHA Innovation Ecosystem (VHA IE) Shark Tank competition, the pair’s program, including implementation at other sites, has reached 3,000 veterans and saved more than 250 lives that would otherwise have been lost without intervention .
With support from VA legal teams and local law enforcement agencies, entities have now established guidelines to ensure the program provides the same level of care as it begins to expand nationwide. .
You’re not alone
One of the first veterans the couple helped was called 28 times by law enforcement and once pulled a gun on officers. Fearing the calls could result in the veteran’s life and not knowing how to proceed, officers contacted the VMET team to get him the help he needed in VA. After months of treatment, the veteran went from homeless to owner.
Through success and setbacks, he is still in regular contact with Teague and T-Bone. The unique partnership between Long Beach VA and local law enforcement provides an exciting opportunity for the couple, more freedom to guide other programs, identify new areas of change, and advocate for veterans.
Breaking down borders
When dealing with veterans in crisis, Teague and T-Bone know time is running out. “As for the changes, the guys used to joke that I was just one person here and I couldn’t do this. My response was, “I’m going to go to DC to change policies and laws,” said Teague, who is about to do so.
A policy change already in effect resulted in expedited clearance for VA police requests to transport weapons off campus when responding to a call. Request processing now only takes 5-10 minutes, compared to 1-2 hours of processing time before the policy change.
This allows the VMET team to reach at-risk veterans much earlier, while maintaining team safety, which saves more veteran lives.
The innovator in you
Onboarding multiple organizations was no easy feat, but it’s critical to “remind employees that they have a voice,” Teague said. Trying something new or experimenting is worth it. For T-Bone, “Helping veterans, but also finding immense fulfillment in the program and doing the job that I love is the best part.”
These two friends have been able to help thousands of veterans struggling with mental health issues and are just getting started. Taking advantage of the opportunities and resources within VHA IE opens the door to eventually seeing an idea move from an idea or pilot project to national implementation – in the name of improving health care for our Veterans .
Want to join VHA IE’s army of innovation revolutionaries? Visit our website to learn more about opportunities for VA employees and outside collaborators to get involved in innovation at VA.