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Long-Lasting Partnership Finds New Opportunity

Working with Department of Veterans Affairs to Reimagine Care For Utah's Veterans

Nowhere is choice (and a few of them) more important than when it comes to our health. We don’t just want a good doctor—we want one close by, affordable, and among the best of their kind. Pair these criteria with specialized needs like PTSD, chronic pain, and prosthetics, and the freedom to customize your care can make a world of difference. For Utah’s veterans, choice isn’t just preferable. It’s essential.

That’s where the MISSION Act comes in. Launched by the VA in 2018, the MISSION Act improves veterans’ access to care by extending coverage through partners embedded in high-need areas. This way, veterans can find care closer to home, work with a larger pool of high-quality specialists, and be seen sooner if the VA is at capacity.

UUHC Speaker at Podium Salute

The University of Utah has served veterans alongside the VA since 1946, and the decision to expand that partnership through the MISSION Act was an easy one. “We have a whole new wave of veterans who will need different types of care,” says Ed Clark, MD, associate vice president for clinical affairs and a US Coast Guard veteran. “Our job is to be a steward of the community.”

Thanks to this partnership, veterans served by the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System will soon have access to convenient, world-class health care in the southwest part of the valley. The expansion, scheduled to open later this year within the U’s South Jordan Health Center, is designed to cater to veterans’ evolving needs, offering primary care, mental health, audiology, physical therapy, and prosthetics. A Patient-Aligned Care Team (PACT) model also designates an entire team to champion each patient so they feel supported through their health care journey.

UUHC Speaker at Podium

The benefits of this unique partnership extend far past our state’s borders. Vernique Lynn (right), a Navy veteran from Georgia, credits University Hospital and the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center for saving her life as a heart transplant recipient and two-time cancer survivor. “It’s a beautiful thing that they were able to bring me down here so that I could have this excellent care,” she says.

Veterans will still be able to seek a wide range of services at the George E. Wahlen VA Medical Center, but the expansion will offer a closer, easier option for many. “We can’t be everywhere,” says Ismael “Milo” Quiroz, MPA, director of planning at VA Salt Lake City Health Care System, which covers 124,000 square miles and serves 65,000+ veterans across Utah. “But when our partners are in those areas, the VA looks to the community to help our nation’s heroes.”

Milo knows this better than many; he’s a military veteran and Purple Heart recipient himself. After his time in the military, he knew he wanted to provide a veteran’s perspective in VA planning initiatives. “When I work, the question always comes down to, ‘Is this the best thing for veterans?’” he says. “Having served, I always think about how things will benefit my brothers and sisters in arms. That’s my biggest driver.”

Additional expansions are planned across Utah and Nevada, says Karen Gribbin, MD, chief of staff at VA Salt Lake City. It’s hard work but well worth it. “Every patient we see has signed on the dotted line that they will sacrifice their lives for our freedoms,” she says. “They have absolutely earned these services.”

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