Army Veteran Brenda Gil with Dr. Nancy Lutwak, Women Veterans Champion in the ED
Friday, September 14, 2012
Brenda Gil, 39, is proud to be working at VA as part of the Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) program. The Army Veteran - a single mom - has two teenage daughters. Up until about three months ago, going back to 2009 when she separated from military service, her life had been steadily deteriorating, she said.
While Gil was in the Army, her daughters stayed back in New York with their grandmother. Based in Germany, Gil was in Armor, responsible for maintaining her units' M16 rifles, M9 handguns and mounted weaponry. Those skills didn't transfer well to civilian life. She moved from job to job, apartment to hotel room with her daughters. Finally, seven months ago, they landed in a shelter. "It was horrible," she said.
Gil's health was increasingly problematic and for a variety of reasons, she was turned away from various healthcare facilities. She admits she looked frightening even to herself. She had lost a lot of weight, her hair was a wreck. "My hygiene was terrible, my skin was all broken out,” she said. Desperate and unaware of her right to VA benefits, she sought help at the Emergency Department at VA New York Harbor Healthcare System's Manhattan Campus. Dr. Curt Dill, Chief of the Emergency Department, examined Gil and advised her that VA could help her in a number of ways.
"First he introduced me to Dr. Nancy Lutwak. That changed my life,” she said. "Dr. Lutwak treated me in the emergency room, helping me with my more severe medical problems. After I was feeling better, she made certain I could have immediate follow-up in both primary care and gynecology clinics. That led to my being seen in other clinics as well on a regular basis," Gil added: "Dr. Lutwak didn't just help me with medical care, she gave me carfare and made sure I had food for the kids. She even gave me cocoa butter for my skin."
After Gil was seen in the emergency department, she also got help from psychiatrists who encouraged her to consult with VA's Department of Social Work about qualifying for HUD/VASH housing. Another staff member put her on to the Compensated Work Therapy program which accepted her application and gave her a six month assignment as an escort in the Hoptel, where some patients, coming from a distance, spend the night before surgery. The CWT transitional work program gives Gil and many other Veterans the chance to improve job-related skills as they recover from mental health and/or substance abuse problems.
Gil said she takes her medications and goes to her regular mental health and primary care appointments. Not only does she feel better physically, but her daughters are also thriving with their mother in better health. "I was in bad shape and so were they. Now, they're doing so much better," said Gil. Among many key factors in the family's improved outlook, is that they've now secured a two bedroom apartment in the Bronx.
"Dr. Lutwak changed my life and gave me hope," Gil said. Dr. Lutwak, described her patient "as one of those women Veterans who were too overwhelmed by problems to have considered making a primary care appointment. So, the Emergency Department served as a door for immediate care, and offered a path to enrollment for VA healthcare and use of many other needed services." Gil is happy for herself and wants to spread the word to help fellow Veterans. "I know for a fact there are many other women Veterans like me out there," she said.