When Tunmi Adebanjo has someone thank her for her service, she feels proud and appreciated.
So, she knows how it makes other veterans feel when they are told the same thing.
Because she’s one of them.
Tunmi, who served in the Navy for four years, is a case manager for the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center’s Medical Services Team. As a behavioral health provider, she works specifically with veterans.
“As a veteran, I can relate to them,” Tunmi said. “I know what it’s like to be in the military culture.”
Tunmi has been at the Bert Nash Center for four years. But her role working with veterans is a new position at the Center. She started this summer.
“When I was asked, I was honored,” she said.
The Bert Nash Center is a fully certified Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC). With the CCBHC model, veterans care is identified as a core service.
“As Bert Nash was working to incorporate all aspects of CCBHC, Tunmi’s name surfaced as a good candidate to help Bert Nash and we were honored to have her step into that role,” said Marsha Page-White, senior director of Innovation and Implemention who headed up the Center’s CCBHC certification process. “Tunmi has done an outstanding job of understanding the VA (Veterans Affairs) and veterans’ systems of care. We have seen multiple successes in the work that she had done in such a short time. Our care with veteran’s services was highlighted in our certification visit.”
Bert Nash has approximately 10 former service members on staff.
Tunmi joined the military to have her education paid for and to see the world. She was stationed in Naples, Italy, as part of a submarine group when she was in the Navy.
Tunmi was born in the United States but grew up in Nigeria. Upon completion of high school, she returned to the United States to further her education. Tunmi finished her education at the University of Kansas. She has a master’s degree in social work from the School of Social Welfare.
"I always love to help" she said. " That is something I enjoy doing. So, working with veterans gives me an opportunity to do something I love and in general to be of help."
When working with veterans, she talks with them about a variety of issues, including housing, employment, addiction, and trauma. The veterans she has worked with range in age from 32 to 76.
"I love to connect with other veterans because I get to help another fellow veteran,” she said. “These are men and women who have been through some stuff and are currently going through some stuff."
Tunmi receives client referrals from the Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals in Topeka and Leavenworth.
“The VA is very vast, and it can be so hard to navigate,” Tunmi said. "So, it is helpful when you have someone you can relate with and can help maneuver through the system and the process."
The staff at the front desk at the Bert Nash Center will also let her know if a veteran comes in.
“When they come in, they’re not expecting to meet with a veteran,” Tunmi said. “When they find out I am a veteran, they're like OK, you understand.
“I can relate to them, regardless of what branch of service, though I tell them the Navy is better,” she said with a laugh.
Besides working with the VA, Tunmi works with other Bert Nash Center teams and collaborates with other community partners in coordinating care for veterans that can involve multiple agencies at the same time.
Tunmi worked with a veteran who had lost everything and had to depend on people for essentials like clothing and a bed, but it was hard for him to ask for help.
“He was devastated, but as a team, we encouraged him and told him he was on the right path,” Tunmi said. “We were there to cheer him on.”
Now, the veteran is housed and receiving Bert Nash Center services.
Another veteran needed help but didn’t want to do therapy. Tunmi convinced him to give it a try.
“I told him I think it would be a good idea if you just talked to someone. I said try it and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it. He said, OK, I’ll try it,” Tunmi said.
He is now receiving therapy services at the Bert Nash Center.
When Tunmi first meets with a veteran, one thing she always does, she thanks them for their service.
“It makes me feel good to hear it, so I know how it makes them feel,” she said. “For me, it is an honor to serve those who served and are currently serving."