Military Veterans face a number of challenges in transitioning to civilian life. One they do not have to face is finding health care for their children, thanks to a unique new program, Healthcare Without Walls-Veterans (HWW-V), an effort of Atlanta-based nonprofit Innovative Solutions for Disadvantage & Disability (ISDD). The goal of the program is to improve the health of the children of military veterans, particularly those who may have experienced homelessness or other traumas. Free services include a well-child/infant check-up, behavioral health screening, child health literacy training and family care coordination. HWW-V is funded by grants from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Healthcare Georgia and Jesse Parker Williams Foundations and tax-deductible donations from individuals.
For Darlene Burns, who served our country in the Marine Corps, HWW-V has been a tremendous help at a difficult time in her life. Burns fled an abusive relationship while pregnant and with a young child, starting her new life with only the few things she get into her car. She enrolled in the HWW-V program so that her children could receive free health screenings. She also received child health education and family care coordination to help her access resources and assistance. That included donations of clothing, diapers, formula, baby items and toys.
One of the things she most appreciated was the specialized health literacy training, that took into account her experiences as a veteran and how those experiences can impact her parenting and her children. Fellow veteran, Felisa Hill, the program’s Peer Specialist and the Program Director, Laura Wells, LCSW, delivered the training. Of Hill, Burns said, “She knows exactly what veterans have to go against. Being a single parent, it can be hard to find the resources I need. But, I know I can call Healthcare Without Walls-Veterans and they will find them for me. They know exactly what to look for, even if I’m not that sure about what I need. I’m very grateful for the program,” said Burns. “I keep telling people about it. More veterans need to know it’s there for them.”
Healthcare Without Walls-Veterans is a population expansion of ISDD’s Healthcare Without Walls (HWW) program, which provides a similar set of services to women and children who have experienced homelessness and are enrolled in the behavioral treatment programs at Mary Hall Freedom House. The two populations were selected because of their vulnerability to homelessness which is a factor in the increased risk for adverse social, mental health, developmental and educational outcomes for children.
Children who have experienced homelessness are sick four times more often with twice the ear infections, four times as many respiratory infections, five times more gastrointestinal problems, and go hungry at twice the rate of other children. They have three times the rate of emotional and behavioral problems as compared to non-homeless children and are four times more likely to show delayed development. They also have twice the rate of learning disabilities and as infants are four times more likely than their peers in stable homes to have a low birth weight and require specialized neonatal care.
Laura Wells, LCSW, Program Director for Innovative Solutions for Disadvantage & Disability says, “Healthcare Without Walls-Veterans is sensitive to the impact of military service and deployment on family life and on child health and development. Our goal is to improve access to primary, specialty and behavioral health care for children, ensure that children have a regular doctor and that parents are equipped with the health knowledge needed to navigate our healthcare system, understand developmental milestones and successfully advocate for their child’s health needs.”
Military veterans who would like access the free services provided by Healthcare Without Walls can enroll in the program by visiting www.isdd-home.org/hwwv or calling Laura Wells, Program Director at 404-303-5126.
Innovative Solutions for Disadvantage & Disability was founded in 2004 with the mission to reduce health disparities among children living in social and economic disadvantage with or at risk of disability in the Atlanta Metro Area.