There are more than 1 million military veterans who identify as LGBT and related identities. These individuals are at an increased risk for suicide and other healthcare disparities, due in part to barriers to accessing care.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) oversees the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), which is the largest integrated healthcare system in the United States, serving over 9 million Veterans. As employees at VHA, we are encouraged to develop innovative approaches to caring for our nation’s Veterans. Each VHA medical center has an LGBT Veteran Care Coordinator who is trained to assist LGBT Veterans with access to care.
PRIDE in All Who Served
An example of one of the many VHA programs is the PRIDE in All Who Served (PRIDE) program, which began at the Hampton (Virginia) VA Medical Center. This program engaged members of the LGBT community to better understand their healthcare needs.
In 2018, we partnered with Tuscaloosa (Alabama) VA Medical Center and were recognized by the VHA Innovators Network Spark-Seed-Spread Innovation Investment Program for our work on the PRIDE program. This VHA initiative looks to accelerate employee-inspired innovations to improve healthcare experiences for veterans, families, caregivers, and employees.
PRIDE is a health education program that focuses on reducing healthcare disparities in the LGBT veteran community. Groups meet for 10 weeks and discuss topics like improving overall wellness, increasing social connection, and empowering veterans to engage in services related to their personal health and mental health needs. PRIDE is one of several programs that provide LGBT veterans support and services.
On the rise
PRIDE continues to grow and is now available at 22 VA Medical Centers around the country. The program trained more than 600 VHA staff last year, reaching more than 275 Veterans (55 percent of whom were women, 27 percent racial/ethnic minorities).
Early findings demonstrate significant changes for those who have participated in the program, including:
- Reduced likelihood of attempted suicide
- Reduced anxiety and concern about acceptance
- Increased protective factors, such as community involvement and identity certainty
Teri Colleen King, a transgender veteran, says the PRIDE program helped her see who she really is. She recently shared her story and experience with StoryCorps.
“It is better to live as who I am than to die in fear of who I am,” she said. “It is worth being who we are, who we are is beautiful. I did not know that before, but I know that now.”
PRIDE is one of the first practices to take part in the VHA Diffusion Academy, a new program that develops advanced, successful innovations for national rollout. Over the coming months, PRIDE is expected to be available at more VA Medical Centers, including telehealth options.