Tampa VA’s pride program spotlights aging LGBTQ vets

TAMPA | The James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital will hold its annual pride event June 27 to highlight the intricacies of caring for aging LGBTQ veterans.

The event is organized by the hospital’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion in conjunction with its LGBTQSA special emphasis program. According to the hospital, the latter exists “to identify and address barriers, stereotypes and other related issues in the workplace,” to “foster allies, increase awareness of health care issues” and to “advocate for a caring, respectful and welcoming environment for our LGBT veterans, family members and employees.”

“Caring for Aging LGBT Veterans” is open to veterans, health care providers and the general public. LGBT Veteran Care Coordinator Dr. Cortney Russell-Eaton, the hospital’s doctor of audiology who serves as a resource for health care providers working with LGBT veterans, says this year’s topic was chosen because aging veterans are “a high percentage of our population.”

The program has previously highlighted transgender veteran care and being an ally for veterans within the LGBT community. Topics are decided by a committee consisting of physicians and healthcare providers who focus on mental health, social work and nursing. “They’re often the voice that helps us realize where there are some areas our staff could use some education,” Russell-Eaton says.

“We’ve done a lot of research as committee members about various health disparities among LGBT people in general,” she continues. “LGBT Veterans have a sort of a double-impact. They not only experience LGBT health disparities but they can also experience some different veteran-related health issues, so when you combine those that makes them a little bit more at risk.”

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which stresses that LGBTQ veterans “require the same time and attention by health care professionals as any other veteran,” studies have revealed that members of the LGBTQ community are at an increased risk for high levels of stress due to being members of a minority.

That stress can lead to increased risks for certain mental and physical health conditions, they advise, which could result in lower overall health status and lower rates of routine and preventative care. The department further cites higher rates of depression, substance abuse, discrimination, sexually transmitted diseases including HIV infection and an increased incidence in some cancers.

Russell-Eaton also says this year’s topic was chosen to focus on the differences between younger and older LGBTQ veterans. “We find that it’s important to share information with our staff and our healthcare providers so that when they do work with LGBT veterans of any age they’ll perhaps realize that this population does face some additional barriers and health risks,” she says.

This year’s formal presentation, held in the hospital’s auditorium from 11:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m., will also feature vendors like PFLAG and the inaugural Pasco Pride, available before and afterwards for community outreach.

In addition, Russell-Eaton adds, the event will provide continuing education geared primarily toward physicians, nurses and mental health and social work specialists. “Those who attend for the entirety of the program can receive professional licensure credit for their annual or bi-annual license,” she says.

Above all, organizers stress that the event exists to illustrate the importance of inclusion at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, which has been recognized as a “Leader in Healthcare Equality” by the Human Rights Campaign since 2013. “Our efforts are always to make sure that all of the public, including the LGBT community, knows that the Tampa VA is welcoming and inclusive for all veterans,” Russell-Eaton says.

“We definitely want our LGBT veterans to feel comfortable and seek services here at the VA,” she concludes, “as they have certainly earned the right to receive their healthcare here.”

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