Ask an Expert: Medical Social Work for Veteran Affairs
Westminster alum and medical social worker, Suzanne Fields (’93), talks about homeless outreach for veterans.
by Lily Wolfe (’18)
Suzanne Fields (’93) became a licensed social worker in 1998, working with children and families for the first 18 years of her career. After moving to California, Suzanne began working at a Navy base in San Diego, helping service member populations. After three years in San Diego and Mississippi, she now works with the homeless veteran population in Salt Lake City, Utah.
What is your position with the US Department of Veterans Affairs?
“I’m a medical social worker at the VA, which is different from what I have done before. It’s a new direction for my career. My role is to find veterans—the ones holding signs saying ‘homeless veteran’ on the street corner panhandling—and ask them if they’re eligible for health care. This means they spent time in service, they served in combat, or experienced friendly or hostile fire. I then put them in my government car and take them to the VA to get hooked up with health care and housing. I’m out on the streets crawling through holes in fences and viaducts, and yelling ‘homeless outreach’ to encampments to see if we can get them connected with the VA and with medical care.”
What happens when you bring the Veterans to the VA?
“After leaving the homeless shelter, the viaduct, or the street corner, I’ll take them to the VA where they’ll get their labs done. I don’t care if they’re using heroin, it doesn’t matter. Next, our doctor will see them and set them up with a primary care doctor, which prevents visits to the emergency room. We also get them connected with HUD-VASH, which is transitional housing.”
What’s your weekly schedule like?
“I work whenever there is a need. I’m at the homeless shelter two days a week, at the public library one day a week, and then, anytime someone calls and says they see a veteran standing on a corner, we hop in the car and go.”
What’s the most challenging part about your job?
“I see things that no human being should see. I see a lot of people being really ugly, for example: veterans being spit on from cars that are passing by, a lot of drug use, and people forcing their beliefs on veterans. So that’s a harder part of my job, but the work is really noble work, and it’s really special work. I often feel very emotional about it. I feel like there are these incredible people, and somehow I get to be part of their journey. It’s really humbling. It’s hard work—the hardest I’ve ever done.”
About the Westminster Review
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