By Carrie Haderlie
In celebration of National Nurses Week Sheridan VA Medical Center is awarding Nurse of the Year honors to registered nurses Reba Traylor and Jonella Stark, nursing assistant Roberta Carlock, and licensed practical nurse James Walthall. “These are this year’s cream of the crop,” said Jane Votaw, associate director of nursing and patient support services at the VAMC. Traylor, Stark, Carlock and Walthall were selected by their peers for their outstanding qualities and care they provide to veterans.
Traylor is clinical staff development educator for all staff at the VAMC. “I support their professional development through our scholarship program, leadership development program, school-at-work and reading enrichment programs,” she said. “We have an online enrichment program and bring speakers in. (I do) whatever I need to help develop staff.” Stark works in the VAMC’s mental health resident rehabilitation treatment program. “The residential program treats patients with substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues, so I consider myself the medical liaison between the patient and the primary care physician,” she said. “I triage their needs. I work with all ages, from Vietnam vets to Iraqi veterans (and) men and women.” Carlock is a nursing and restorative assistant at Mountain View Living Center.
“I work with all of the veterans that live at Mountain View Living Center. We have some that come in for rehabilitation and we have some long-term people,” she said. “We provide care and a multitude of different activities. We try to keep them busy and (make them) feel more like this is home.” Walthall works on an inpatient mental health unit. He was not available for a Sheridan Press interview this week. The VAMC employs about 120 R.N.s, 60 L.P.N.s and 60 nursing assistants, Votaw said. “We hear just from this sampling of staff the diverse needs we serve,
the diverse types of veterans (we see),” she said. “I think that to do that, we have to have staff that are educated, qualified and committed. Honestly, I can’t brag enough about them. They do a tremendous job and they really are very, very committed people.” The VAMC serves as the mental health resource center for Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and parts of Nebraska and Iowa.
“If there is a veteran in one of those areas who is in need of our mental health services, they are transferred here for our expertise,” Votaw said. The VAMC also meets a special need for female veterans across the country with mental health services and programs specially designed for
women, she added. “They can and do come from all over the country,” she said. The award recipients said they are honored to care for the nation’s veterans. “It’s an honor. I didn’t serve in the military, and it is an honor to be able to give something back,” Stark said. Carlock said she is amazed by veterans at the VAMC day after day. “Some of the stories we hear, especially with our older population, things that they went though, I just can’t imagine going through anything like that — and these guys, they’ve been through (that) repeated (times). You sit there and it runs chills down your spine that they survived that stuff,” she said. Votaw said Walthall feels the same.
“I know that he feels the same way that the folks here have expressed,” she said. “I know he feels very strongly about caring for the veterans and the job he does for them to honor them for what they did.” She noted that a sign at the VAMC entrance reads: “The price of freedom is visible here.” “I think we truly believe that, and we can’t give back enough,” she said. “Each one of our patients has their own unique story ... if it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be here.” Stark said caring for veterans is a “team effort,” and she is thankful for the award. Carlock said the award was unexpected. “You come to work and do what you love to do, so it is like the icing on the cake,” she said.