Minneapolis VA physician receives national American Legion award

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A psychiatrist at the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis has received a big honor from the American Legion.

Dr. Megan Press was named Physician of the Year, a national award. She was honored Tuesday in Washington D.C.

The award recognizes her 15 years of work at the VA and her dedication to serving veterans.

“I have genuine admiration for the veterans that I have worked with and continue to work with over the years I have been here,” Press said.

She started as a psychiatrist at the facility immediately after finishing her training.

“I was drawn to the VA’s mission,” she said. “The mission of taking care of veterans’ medical and psychiatric needs.”

Press works with some veterans in an outpatient setting while also spending time in hospital wards to help doctors and surgeons as they treat veterans.

“Typically, when I see them in the hospital, they’ve been admitted for something else,” Press said. “They’ve been admitted for a surgery or a non-psychiatric medical condition and they have had a symptom or a problem where their physician feels a psychiatrist could be useful.”

Over her 15 years with the VA, she said she’s seen tremendous growth within the health system, including an increase in community-based outpatient clinics and telemedicine.

“We are increasing the number of services we can provide veterans closer to home and reducing the number of times veteran care has to turn into a road trip,” she said.

Press told KSTP she’s the proudest of the work she’s done to bring mental health providers into primary care clinics. It allows a veteran to visit both at the same location, on the same day.

“This kind of delivery of care improves outcomes and increases the veterans’ or patients’ experience of care,” Press said.

The American Legion is made up of about 70,000 veterans in Minnesota and roughly 2 million veterans nationwide.

“[Press] provides so many services to the VA healthcare system, which just goes to show her passion for what she does,” said Jeremy Wolfsteller, the department service officer for the American Legion Department of Minnesota.

Wolfsteller joined the Army in 2002 and was deployed to Iraq later that year. He returned to Iraq in 2005 and was critically shot. He spent a year at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center recovering.

“I’m still recovering today, 15 years later, but the team here at the VA play an integral role in that,” he said.

He also said there’s a great need for mental health services for veterans.

“It’s a known fact that a lot of men and women who come home from deployments may struggle with readjustment,” Wolfsteller said. “We want to ensure it is a high priority within the VA to ensure that VA’s nationwide have individuals like Dr. Press.”

Press said the work itself has been a “true privilege” and the award is especially meaningful.

“The American Legion has had such an instrumental role in advocating for the care of veterans and service people,” she said. “To win an award from them, it’s an enormous honor.”