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The Milwaukee Veterans Affairs Medical Center has since last summer teamed with a number of local fire departments to help veterans in need to get to the Clemen (PHOTO: West Allis Fire Dept.)

Fire departments, VA partner to help veterans in need get to the right place

In what appears to be the first such partnership in the country, the Milwaukee Veterans Affairs Medical Center has since last summer teamed with a number of local fire departments to help veterans in need to get to the Clement J. Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center more easily.

Veterans can enroll with their local fire department so that if they dial 911 in an emergency, first responders will know to transport them to the VA hospital.

"This is critical for us and our veterans," said Ben Thelen, Emergency Department nurse manager, who also served in the Army, in a statement.

"One, if someone is sick or having a heart attack, we don't want them driving themselves here. And two, we are specially trained in post-traumatic stress and other war trauma issues.

"We know about 6,000 of our ED patients a year – about 25 percent – need to be seen for mental health and substance abuse issues. We are specially trained to offer that."

The Milwaukee VA is currently working with the West Allis Fire Department and the North Shore Fire Department, which serves Bayside, Brown Deer, Glendale, River Hills, Shorewood, Whitefish Bay and Fox Point.

The program is expected to expand to include Greenfield and St. Francis Fire Departments soon.

As part of the partnership, Thelen plans educate local first responders and equip them with the screening questions used by the VA to assess patients for suicidal thoughts.

"Unlike some other hospitals, we can offer 24/7 mental health care, with psychiatrists and psychologists working in the ED," Thelen said.

"That is a huge timesaver, when someone is in a mental health crisis, or thinking of suicide. It could be the difference that saves a life."

Veterans in the participating municipalities who which to sign up should receive forms that are being mailed out this month. For more information or to receive a form if you didn't get one, call Ben Thelen at (414) 384-2000, ext. 43924.

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