The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is the largest integrated health care system in the United States, providing care at 1,255 health care facilities, including 170 VA Medical Centers and 1,074 outpatient sites of varying complexity. In all, more than 9 million veterans are enrolled in the VA health care program across all military service branches and generations. Since the end of WWII, the VA has had a national partnership with academic medicine based in a federal statute (Policy Memorandum #2 [PDF]).
For more than 60 years, the VCU School of Medicine (SOM) and Central Virginia Veterans Affairs Health System (CVVAHS) have had a formal affiliation to support the research, education and clinical missions across both our organizations. This means that VCU faculty help ensure our local heroes have access to the highest quality of care and achieve the best outcomes possible.
Across Virginia, there are more than 780,000 veterans eligible to receive care through the VHA, and 260,000 are enrolled to do so. The CVVAHS has a catchment area of more than 200,000 veterans coming from 52 cities and counties, covering 22,515 miles of central and southern Virginia and parts of northern North Carolina.
More than 400 faculty from the VCU SOM, many with advanced training and innovative clinical expertise, practice at the CVVAHS in all of the key service lines, including primary care, cardiology, pulmonary, oncology, renal, hepatology, endocrinology, surgery, orthopedics, radiation oncology, radiology, pain management, physical medicine and rehabilitation, spinal cord medicine, ophthalmology, dermatology, women’s health, mental health, dentistry and audiology.
This longstanding and substantial collaboration between VCU and the CVVAHS has translated into diverse and renowned programming and clinical services, such as:
- Centers of excellence in Parkinson’s disease, polytrauma, amputation care, assistive technology, headache and epilepsy
- Comprehensive transplant programming (including heart)
- A dedicated oncology center (linked with VCU’s Massey Cancer Center)
- The nation’s largest spinal cord injury medicine center
- An interdisciplinary women’s center
- One of the nation’s leading palliative care programs
Research, an integral element in the advancement of all health care, has always been a key component of the VCU-CVVAHS collaboration. VA research is unique because of its focus on health issues that affect veterans. The VA’s overarching strategic research priorities include: increasing veterans' access to high-quality clinical trials, increasing the real-world impact of VA research and putting VA data to work for veterans.
VCU and the CVVAHS are national leaders across a range of basic science and clinical research areas, including:
- Improved outcomes after heart transplantation
- Cures for Hepatitis B
- Enhanced management of diabetes mellitus
- Rapid recovery from polytrauma and combat concussions
- Evidence-based care of post-traumatic stress disorder
- Facilitation of walking after spinal cord injury
- Use of machine-body interfaces to enhance the use of prosthetics, braces and wheelchairs
In addition to cutting-edge research, our collaboration fosters extensive educational partnerships that include learners at all levels from across our campuses. Nationally, the VA educates the next generation of health care professionals, training more than 120,000 every year.
We have nearly 300 students, residents and fellows rotating at the CVVAHS who represent VCU’s Schools of Nursing, Engineering, Social Work, Dentistry, Pharmacy and Medicine and the College of Health Professions. The CVVAHS also financially supports and hosts at their clinical sites more than 550 physicians each year who are completing their residency training. Thus, our students and residents train in state-of-the-art facilities, receive expert mentorship, and through their experience, receive unique awareness and insights into the needs and well-being of America's veterans. Importantly, the vast majority of trainees at the CVVAHS voice just how much they enjoy spending their time there and learning about caring for veterans.
I have spent the last 18 years of my own career partnering with the CVVAHS to learn more about and improve the long-term outcomes for combat exposures and injuries. Through this experience, I have not only benefitted professionally with more than $120 million in research funding focused on service member and veteran health but also have had the opportunity to develop partnerships and friendships across the U.S. with health care professionals in the VA and military health care systems who share a common passion to improve the care and lives of America’s heroes. These relationships have helped reinforce how important the Veterans Health System is to our nation and just how fortunate we are in the VCU SOM to be able to care for and support our nation’s finest.