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CU College of Nursing student Darcie Greuel

New marching orders for CU Nursing grad: train VA employees to better relate to veterans

Nurse and officer focusing her capstone project on closing a training gap in the Milwaukee VA

Written by Deborah Sherman on December 13, 2022

Darcie Greuel is earning much more than a master of science degree with a concentration in Veteran and Military Health Care at the University of Colorado College of Nursing this December. The education also led her to create a quality improvement project that could ultimately change the way all employees in the Veterans Health Administration understand the veterans they serve.

Greuel, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, took CU Nursing courses online while serving as the program manager of the Veterans Administration Medical Center (VA) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on a team that focuses on caring for soldiers who served after 9/11. She won the 2021 Woman Veteran of the Year award in Wisconsin.

The more Greuel learned, the more she noticed a big gap in employee training at the VA. There is no standardized or required training for the mostly-civilian employees to learn about the cultural and specific needs of the very people they serve – veterans.

“They come in with expectations that their providers have some sort of military history or background and they're going to understand when they talk about PTSD symptoms and the military jargon, and it can be a big disappointment sometimes for them to find out their provider has never been in the military,” said Lt. Col. Darcie Greuel, BSN, RN.

Only 20% of VA Employees are Veterans

Greuel says about 21% of employees in the Milwaukee VA, or one-fifth of the workforce, are veterans. She says just because you haven’t been in the military doesn’t mean you’re not a good medical provider, but she says it can make it difficult to relate to veterans 100%.

“The overall VA mission is a promise that was given to us as a nation by President Abraham Lincoln: ‘To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.’ So, it seems odd to me that in an institution where our customer is the veteran and military troops, how are we not providing education to our staff to have some competencies in that area? I want people to realize the value and importance of being able to connect with veterans and military people. It's a whole different culture on its own,” says Greuel.

Training and Knowledge Can Help Civilian Providers Relate to Patients, Both Active Duty and Veterans

That’s why she’s focusing her capstone project on researching the issue to learn what kind of training and resources would benefit civilian employees and their patients. She also surveyed supervisors and veteran employees to learn about their experiences and training they’d like to better serve their veteran and actively serving reserve and National Guard employees

“The survey shows supervisors feel as if they are not really trained well, or don't have the resources readily available to them. They don't know where to go to find them. They also have a lot of questions about what to do if an employee is getting ready to deploy. While they don't need to know all of the details, they should know where to go to easily find the information.”

After graduation as an advanced practicing nurse, Greuel will continue to manage the Post 9/11 Military2VA Case Management program and hopes to promote changes in the system by consulting with the VA education department to advocate new employee education focused on veterans and military employees.

Currently, Greule says supervisors do not have standardized or accessible training resources that address veteran employees’ needs and potential challenges. Her project intends to show that teaching leaders about the culture of troops and what resources they need will ultimately improve relationships, job satisfaction, and retention.

Topics: Students