Sherrill Wayland, MSW
SAGE: Services & Advocacy for LGBT Elders Metro St. Louis
Five years ago when SAGE Metro St. Louis first started providing outreach and trainings, the Veterans Administration (VA) St. Louis Health Care System was one of the last places we expected to be. Fast forward to 2013 and we find the VA St. Louis Health Care System as one of the leaders in creating LGBT welcoming health care in Missouri.
In 2012, the VA St. Louis Health Care System held the first ever St. Louis Veterans PRIDE Celebration. A standing room only crowd of Veterans and employees packed the room to hear a panel discussion, in which SAGE Metro St. Louis participated. At this meeting, SAGE extended a welcome to the employees to have a representative join the Missouri LGBT Health Roundtable, as a part of the Missouri LGBT Health Access Project. In turn, SAGE was asked to join the VA St. Louis Health Care Systems, LGBT Advisory Council as an ad hoc committee member.
Over the years, SAGE has received calls from LGBT Veterans, fearful that they would not receive care from the VA if their LGBT status was known during the time when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was in force. We also field calls from LGBT Veterans who feel they have been treated in a discriminatory or unwelcoming fashion. Today, we have a direct linkage to the VA St. Louis Health Care System that allows us to assist LGBT Veterans with gaining welcoming care in an environment that truly honors ALL Veterans.
Over the past year, the work at the VA St. Louis has grown to include a robust offering of LGBT Health Cultural Competency Trainings provided by VA St. Louis employees and SAGE. We are currently in the process of developing a schedule of trainings for SAGE to present on a monthly basis.
With the commitment and dedication of the St. Louis VA staff, LGBT Veterans health care and access is a priority. SAGE Metro St. Louis will honor the St. Louis Veterans Administration on June 1, 2013 with the first annual “SAGE Community Cares” Award for excellence in service to the LGBT community.
The groundwork established in partnership with the VA is invaluable as we begin moving forward with sustainable policy change initiatives that will positively impact our LGBT Veterans. Like many we understand the value in building partnerships to advance our movements, and while addressing the LGBT Veterans is mandated by the federal government, having a strategic partnership established will serve as a cornerstone in advancing LGBT health inclusion efforts at both VA hospitals in St. Louis.
“Our LBGT program includes comprehensive care and ongoing education of staff and health care providers about the unique healthcare concerns of our LGBT Veteran community. We believe all staff who are knowledgeable about the health care concerns of our LGBT Veterans are better able to serve our diverse Veteran population. As the Deputy Director of the VA St. Louis Health Care System, I am extremely proud of the commitment our providers have shown to our diverse (Veteran) patient and employee population.” – Marc Magill, Deputy Director