By William K. Alcorn
Connie Schaffer of Columbiana, a nurse at the Youngstown Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic, was named 2012 Ohio AMVETS Nurse of the Year for her work with military veterans, especially female veterans.
Schaffer, a licensed practical nurse, in 2010 initiated what has become an annual women’s health program for veterans that she describes as an “educational and pampering” day.
The educational part of the event includes health exhibits and screenings, mammograms, information about VA benefits, speakers, exercise, gift baskets, luncheon, activities including massages and manicures, and tote bags labeled with the event theme.
The themes were “Celebrating You” in 2010; “Empowering You” in 2011 and “Because of You” in 2012.
The goal is to make female veterans more proactive and informed about all aspects of their health care, Schaffer said.
While she works in the Women’s Health section of the clinic, she also cares for male veterans as part of her work at the VA.
“It’s my way of serving them ... repaying them for their service to us and to the nation,” she said.
“It’s exciting to be a part of the VA. It is the country’s largest integrated health care system, and working here I can advocate for veterans and their families. I like teaching, and we do a lot of preventative education here,” she said.
Schaffer said the women’s health events are a lot of fun. About 150 female veterans age 19 to 94 attended the 2012 event.
“They love being treated like females and all the freebees they get. It’s very girlie. Who wouldn’t love that,” she said with a laugh.
“Once they come, they don’t want to miss the next one,” she said.
Schaffer said she was “honored and surprised” by the AMVETS award, which she was presented at the AMVETS Department of Ohio state convention.
The women’s health events are funded by the VA, AMVETS, American Legion, the Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission and other military-oriented organizations.
“It isn’t just one person. Everybody at the clinic helps, including the volunteers,” she said.
“Connie is a wonderful asset. She makes our female patients feel special,” said Darice Jay, Youngstown VA nurse manager.
“I love my job. The VA is a great place to work ... everybody works together as a team,” she said.
Schaffer, the daughter of Ross and Luella Brunner of Columbiana, has two daughters, Mackenzie Smith and Whitney Schaffer, both of Canton. Her siblings are Gary Brunner of Mentor, Brenda Fusek of Canfield, and Rick Brunner in Florida.
A 1975 graduate of South Range High School in North Lima and a graduate of the Hannah E. Mullins School of Practical Nursing in Salem, Schaffer worked at Salem Community Hospital and Salem Area Visiting Nurse Association before coming to the VA in 2001.
“A lot of the reason [for coming to the VA] was job security. It turned out to be a great choice for me and a good opportunity,” she said.
Schaffer urged female veterans to check what VA benefits for which they are eligible. Even if they have other health insurance, being seen twice the first year and once a year thereafter at a VA clinic will maintain their VA eligibility, she said.
“We see women from 19 to 90 at the annual women’s event. It’s fun to hear their stories, especially from World War II. Joining the military back then was a very bold move,” she said.
Now it’s a whole different generation, one that is welcomed into the military.
“It’s a very interesting job. We’re always learning. It’s fun to interact with them. The young girls bring back their babies to show us,” she said.
Of her work at the clinic she say, “It’s my way of serving them ... repaying them for their service to us and to the nation.”