One of the great unsung pillars of geriatric care in the United States is the Veterans Administration. While the needs of young veterans returning from our current conflicts have gotten a lot of press and well-deserved attention, we can’t forget the needs of those who served in all of our prior conflicts, 55% of whom are 60 or older. (This represents 12.5 million people, 4.8 million of whom are over 75.) At this point, the veterans of World War II are rapidly disappearing, but the veterans of Korea, Vietnam, and the long cold war are reaching the age when they will need high quality, comprehensive, and geriatrically expert care.

To help it meet the needs of this population, the VA has long been a top funder of health professionals, supporting approximately a quarter of fellowship slots in geriatric medicine and a half of those in geriatric psychiatry. Through its Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Centers (GRECCs), the VA is also one of the few supporters of health professionals (of all kinds) who have clinical training in geriatrics and want up to two years of advanced training for academic careers.

Because of the needs of its population, both young and older, the VA is also one of the nation’s largest employers of social workers–some 9,000 at the master’s level–who provide mental health treatment, case management, and a wide array of psychosocial services to veterans and their families. The rest of the health system has only recently begun to acknowledge the connection of physical health to mental health and social environment; for the VA, this is old hat. Indeed, what is cutting edge in other health systems, like electronic medical records, medical homes, and continuous quality improvement, is an everyday reality for the VA.

So, combining the VA’s interest in geriatrics, social work, and high quality innovations, it is only natural that the Foundation-funded Hartford Partnership Program for Aging Education, directed by Patricia J. Volland, MSW, MBA, at the New York Academy of Medicine, would be something the VA would find interesting. The Hartford Partnership Program for Aging Education (aka HPPAE) helps schools of social work develop their curriculum in gerontology and improve the experience of social workers in aging. Specifically, it helps schools strengthen their partnerships with community organizations for field placements, find stipend funds for trainees in aging, and, most innovatively, implement a system whereby trainees rotate through different field placements to see more of the continuum of care for older adults. For more information, check out this introductory video featuring Pat Volland:

Right now through the GRECCs the VA provides 51 stipends annually for social work trainees doing an internship. However, with over 900 master’s-level social work interns each year, this means just over 5% of the VA’s social work trainees get support to focus specifically on aging veterans. So the Foundation was very pleased to provide a special supplement of $30,000 to its grant at the New York Academy of Medicine to help HPPAE build effective partnerships with GRECCS and their affiliated schools.

Launching the VA-GRECC-HPPAE partnership in Salt Lake City

We are also very appreciative of the support and encouragement from the VA Central Office to implement this rotational model. Deborah Amdur, Chief Consultant, Care Management and Social Work; Carol Sheets, National Director of Social Work; Robert Zeiss, Director, Associated Health Education, Office of Academic Affiliations; and Ken Shay, VA Office of Geriatrics and Extended Care, have been instrumental in bringing this partnership to fruition.

The win-win-win in this arrangement is that students and schools get the benefits of training stipends and exposure to the outstanding clinical services of the VA, the VA gets ready access to a pool of students well prepared to care for its core veteran constituency, and the Foundation gets a strong partner in the VA to continue the process of institutionalizing the training model.

To date Pat Volland and her colleagues at the New York Academy of Medicine have convened the GRECC and local schools of social work in Salt Lake City, UT; Birmingham, AL; and Madison, WI. One of the pleasant synergies of these efforts have been the strong support of local GRECC directors at each site: Drs. Mark Supiano, Richard Allman, and Sanjay Asthana, respectively--all long-time friends of the Foundation. Drs. Allman and Asthana also serve as directors of Centers of Excellence in Geriatric Medicine and Training for the Foundation. We are very grateful for their support and that of the VA Central Office in both its geriatrics and social work divisions.

What’s not to love?

I’m getting HPPAE.