For Lieutenant Colonel Levi Funches Jr., MD, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, helping to address health care disparities among veterans in Indiana is personal. A 10-year veteran of the U.S. Army who still serves in the Reserves, Funches provided insight into the veteran population and health care concerns they face as well as his passion to serve veterans in a recent interview.
What brought you to work at IU School of Medicine after your military career?
After serving 10 years active duty in the U.S. Army I came to Riley Children’s Hospital at IU Health and IU School of Medicine. My last duty assignment was as a neonatologist at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington. After discussing with my wife, we decided the unpredictable moves were becoming a concern especially its effect on our children. We decided to look for civilian jobs, and tried to focus on areas near our birthplace, Chicago. I reached out to a mentor of mine at my fellowship program and he connected me with the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) group here at IU. I came for an interview and really enjoyed the group and environment. After my wife visited the area and felt good about living in Indy, we decided to move and accept the faculty position.
Why are you passionate about veterans’ health?
I am passionate about veterans’ health for two reasons. One, its personal because I am an Army veteran. Second, I think it’s important to care for our veterans especially since they serve a vital duty to our country. Giving back to veterans who paid that sacrifice is what makes me an advocate for their health.
What are some health care disparities and concerns of veterans?
Mental health is a major disparity and concern for veterans. There are many combat-related stresses. For example, separating from their family due to missions can have a profound impact on service members’ mental health. The suicide rate for veterans is 1.5 times greater than for Americans who never served in the military. It is estimated that about 20 American veterans commit suicide daily and young veterans ages 18 to 44 are most at risk.
When it comes to mental health, the military is making strides to address how people react to stress and change the attitude behind reacting to stress. Every person handles stress differently and some have this notion that asking for help means that something is wrong with them. The military is trying to encourage people to reach out. They are pretty aggressive about it actually, especially toward those on active duty. Currently as a guard’s reserve, they still push us to check on each other and get help to those who seem worried or upset. If you don’t want people to know, you can still seek the help without people finding out.
Physical health is also a concern. There are many injuries service people sustain in their joints and bones because of the wear and tear on the body. These injuries come from the items we carry and the vehicles we ride in.
What is the best resource to help people better understand the needs of veterans?
It might seem intuitive, but the internet is a great resource to help people. Just knowing the avenues about how to go to the Department of Veterans Affairs or medical liaison area in the VA to ask questions is important. The VA is also a great resource to ask questions and get guidance. What I appreciate most about the VA here in Indianapolis is the easy access to physicians and services. The team is very comprehensive, and for my medical needs I have been able to see providers solely at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center, and did not have to be referred off campus.
What resources are available for physicians interested in getting involved with veterans health?
IU School of Medicine partners with the VA Medical Center which allows for 125 post-graduate physician residents and fellows to pursue clinical training in the medical center and deliver care under the supervision of VA physicians in 22 accredited medical specialties.
What is the best way people can make a difference?
Overall, if you know a veteran ask them about what they are doing for their health care and their wellbeing. If you know a vet who is having issues or concerns let them know to check out their local VA for any kind of health care. Don’t just assume, reach out. Ask them, “Have you looked at your VA and what is offered?” Try not to have a preconceived notion about what you see and take care of each other.
Interested in learning more? Join Levi Funches Jr., MD, in a collaborative conversation over lunch on Wednesday, November 13, 2019. Faculty, learners and staff, as well as the broader Indianapolis community, are invited to register for this event.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Madison Pershing is a Marketing and Communications Assistant for Indiana University School of Medicine’s Faculty Affairs, Professional Development, and Diversity.