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Reaching Out to OEF/OIF Service Members and Their Families: An Ethnographic Study of a National Policy Mandate

Reisinger HS, Ono S. Reaching Out to OEF/OIF Service Members and Their Families: An Ethnographic Study of a National Policy Mandate. Paper presented at: American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting; 2010 Nov 18; New Orleans, LA.


As a national health care system, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) must tackle the difficult task of sustaining and improving quality health care. To strive toward this goal, the VHA relies on directives, mandated programs, and performance measures, while local VA medical centers (VAMCs) often have considerable autonomy to meet these national requirements. One such program in the VHA today is outreach to Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) servicemembers driven by the need to increase their access to and utilization of VA health care. The objective of this study is to examine one VAMC's local implementation of the nationally mandated OEF/OIF outreach program. To explore the local implementation of a national policy, I am collecting organizational documents and conducting interviews with key individuals who participate in outreach to returning OEF/OIF servicemembers. I am conducting interviews with servicemembers and their family members regarding their perspectives on being the target audience for various outreach programs. I have analyzed the ways interviewees define outreach, what they view as its purpose and, for those who conduct outreach programming, models for approaching outreach. I also describe ways ethnographic data is being used to incorporate different perspectives and broaden the scope of outreach programming with intentional effort to improve effectiveness. Ethnographers are experts of 'the local' but a national health care system requires attention to broader policies. Ethnography can provide data to improve local programs, but one of the challenging theoretical questions is whether local ethnographic knowledge can serve to improve national policy.

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