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William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital

 

For the Record: Veterans Share Life Stories

Interviewer holding a pen and writing on a notepad while sitting across the table from an Army Veteran

Madison VA’s Thor Ringler interviews Army Veteran Darrell Krenz, a POW in the Korean War, for the My Life, My Story project.

By Author: Heath A. Forney, Sr.
Friday, February 17, 2017
Every day, VA hospitals across the country welcome hundreds of our nation’s Veterans, each with their own unique story of life experience and military service. Sharing these stories was the impetus behind the My Life, My Story innovation, an effort to personalize the health care experience for Veterans by including a written account of a Veteran’s life story in his or her medical file.

"I see it as a way of honoring the person who is here at the hospital and saying ‘you are important and who you are is important to us,’" Thor Ringler, Writer-Editor for the My Life, My Story project, explained. "Asking Veterans to share their story lets them know that we want to know who they are as a person too."

The My Life, My Story Project Attends the 2016 Innovator Boot Camp

Ringler submitted the My Life, My Story project to the 2016 Employee Innovation Competition and was one of the 17 projects invited to participate in VA’s 2016 Innovator Boot Camp, a two-day event sponsored by the VHA Innovation Program. The 17 finalists were selected from more than 2,000 ideas submitted by VA employees and contractors as part of the competition.

This year’s Innovator Boot Camp, held on September 20 and 21 in Nashville, TN, helped each of the 17 projects take the first step in transforming an idea into a tangible solution. The Boot Camp provided participants with the support and the practical skills needed to turn their ideas into a reality, such as learning how to create contracts and collect metrics.

VA Care Teams Recognize the Value of My Life, My Story

My Life, My Story began in 2013 at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, WI with a simple idea: to honor a Veteran’s story and improve their care experience by providing VA care teams with an easily digestible summary of the Veteran’s life, in his or her own words.

The value of My Life, My Story is that it builds the relationship between VA care teams and patients by helping care teams understand their patients and the experiences that have shaped who they are.

For each story, a staff writer or community volunteer sits with the Veteran and conducts an interview, which typically lasts an hour. The interviewer asks the Veteran what he or she would like VA care teams to know about their life and distills the Veteran’s response into a 1,000-word story. The Veteran reviews and approves the final version before it is included in their medical record.

The reactions of VA care teams to the My Life, My Story project have been positive. According to an anonymous survey of Madison VA care teams, the vast majority agreed that reading the story was a good use of their clinical time and would help them provide better treatment.

The stories have also been impactful outside of the clinical environment. Ringler shared that the stories often become part of the Veteran’s family legacy, helping family members discover new details, experiences and memories from the Veteran’s life. The stories become especially meaningful to the families of Veterans who have passed away, and Ringler noted that many request copies of the stories to share at the Veteran’s memorial service.

What’s Next for the My Life, My Story Project?

Looking forward, Ringler hopes to see the program at every VA facility in the country. To start, he is taking what he learned in the Innovator Boot Camp and expanding the program to four pilot sites over the next two years. The pilot will reach a total of 1,000 Veterans, but Ringler hopes that one day all of VA’s Veterans will have the opportunity to share their story.

"There are so many great stories out there that we haven’t documented yet," Ringler said. "We know there are another 160 VA hospitals throughout the country with stories that are just as good and moving and important as the ones we have recorded here [in Madison]."

To learn more about the VHA Employee Innovation Competitions, visit: https://connectedcare.va.gov/innovation#grassroots.

Read a new My Life, My Story entry bi-weekly at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MadisonVAHospital/.

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