Initiative's goal is to address veterans' health care needs

Posted: 5:03 PM EST Nov 11, 2013   Updated: 6:21 PM EST Nov 11, 2013

Local health care providers are launching a new program that will help identify and serve those who served their country.

Hospitals in the Lehigh Valley want to make sure the sometimes-specialized health care veterans need is included in their honors.

"We put together all of the regional networks and said let's at least ask at registration if you are a veteran,"said Ron Swinfard, president and CEO, Lehigh Valley Health Network.

"So we can be alerted and say, 'Hey, we have a veteran here. We have a military active duty. We have a reservist here, and we need to be a little in tuned to what his issues, her issues are right now,'" said Lt. Col. Alexander Alex.

The Alliance of Health Care Networks was formed by the Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council.

The alliance hopes to identify and connect veterans with specialized treatments, programs and services.

"We have a unique opportunity here to actually work within the health care community. Inside, with professionals, specialists come together to provide better health care to our veterans in the [Lehigh] Valley," said Alex, noting that the program is one-of-a-kind.

Each hospital has employee volunteers to help implement the program on site and to help strengthen the initiative over time.

Alex said some of the hospitals are already screening veterans at registration, but all will be doing so by March 14, 2014.

"We think this is the right thing to do for the country. These are people who have given up their lives, disrupted their lives to serve our country and make it the bastion of freedom it is. It's the least we can do as health care providers for them," said Swindfard.

Alex said the Lehigh Valley model is being monitored closely by health networks outside the region, and he said the hope is that one day it will become the national standard.