Illiana VA director reaches out to veterans

By MARY WICOFF | (Danville, Ill.) Commercial-News | Published: August 27, 2019

DANVILLE (Tribune News Service) — Shawn Bransky, the new director of the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System, believes in the power of optimism.

“We have challenges and also have a lot of opportunities,” he said. “How do we capitalize on the opportunities?”

Quoting former Secretary of State Colin Powell about optimism being contagious, he hopes to instill that attitude in his staff and veterans.

Bransky began his job as director at the end of May, having served as deputy director for the Phoenix VA Health Care System in Arizona since April 2017.

Prior to his role in Phoenix, he served at the Alaska VA Healthcare System in Anchorage as the associate director since August 2015.

In his new job, Bransky is responsible for overseeing the Illiana System, which includes a 302-bed hospital and a 223-bed Community Living Center, as well as outpatient clinics in Decatur, Mattoon, Peoria and Springfield.

He oversees the delivery of health care to more than 150,000 veterans living in the surrounding 30-county area of Illinois and Indiana and is responsible for an operating budget of $185,973,699 (FY19) and a work force of 1,451. Of that total, 342, or 23.6%, of the employees are veterans.

Melissa A. Spady, a health system specialist and acting public affairs officer, said Bransky is a great addition to the team at VA Illiana.

“He is a veteran, himself, and it is very evident with his actions that he demonstrates the mission of the VA every day,” she said.

“He hit the ground running when he arrived and hasn’t stopped. He also frequently meets with our employees and veterans to hear what’s on their minds. From day one, he has stated he has an open-door policy and I believe our staff and veterans can appreciate that.”

Bransky served in the Air Force from 1993 to 2014, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was deployed to Korea and Afghanistan.

He gets his medical care through Illiana, so, he said, “I look at care through the lens of veterans.”

Through the employees and also town halls, he said, “We get feedback from veterans willing to tell you when things are going well and when things are not going well.”

At a recent town hall sponsored by the American Legion Post 210, veterans shared thoughts on how the VA can improve to meet their needs. The VA needs to hear where improvements are needed, he said.

Illiana staff also is getting ready to do an assessment on identifying the gaps in care today and in the future, and how to meet those needs.

One issue that Bransky is passionate about is reaching out to veterans and bringing them into the system.

“We want to wrap our arms around them and say, ‘these are the benefits you have earned.’

“We encounter veterans who have never filed a claim. They don’t know how to navigate the system,” he said.

The younger veterans are busy with work and families, but Bransky wants them to get enrolled, too. To that end, Illiana is trying to find ways to attract younger vets, such as increasing the use of telemedicine services and discussing whether to extend hours for working vets.

It’s important to build the health-care system around the veterans, he said, and to offer quality care.

Bransky has no plans to make significant changes at the campuses. Instead, he’ll oversee projects already in place.

For example, ground was broken in July for a 22-bed inpatient mental health building. The state-of-the-art building on the Danville campus will help veterans who require acute mental health treatment in an inpatient setting. Completion is expected in October 2020. It’s unknown yet what the original 1965 building will be used for.

“Mental Health is one of our foundational services at our VA and we are very excited to deliver world class care in a therapeutic setting,” Spady said.

Another major project is the addition of two more small homes at the Community Living Center. Ground was broken for those in June, with completion expected next fall. Ten veterans reside in each building, all of which have a home-like atmosphere.

Also, a 20,000-square-foot clinic in Bloomington will open in November, offering primary care and mental health services.

Health care is a rapidly changing, dynamic field, Bransky said.

In his short time on the job, Bransky said he’s impressed with Illiana, and is excited about the job.

He said, “Our staff is deeply committed to taking care of veterans. From housekeepers to clinicians, it’s a team effort. It’s about taking care of the veteran.”

Branksy said the community has been welcoming, and he wants to do more outreach.

“It’s an opportunity to hear from the veterans and capture the ones not enrolled,” he said.

A native of Boston, Branksy grew up in Florida. Bransky received a bachelor’s degree in accounting at Mercer University and a master’s in health administration from Chapman University. He is recipient of several military medals, including the Bronze Star, following his deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

He and his wife, Michell, have four children.

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