Honoring the TriWest nurses’ collage.

Unsung Heroes: A Salute to Our Nurses’ Commitment to Veterans’ Health

“There are so many people who desperately need help. Just knowing that someone is working with you, beside you, to fight those battles is a great comfort.” – Heidi Pittenger, Supervisor, Case Management Special Programs, TriWest

Nurses make up the backbone of our health care system, providing invaluable care to patients across the country. From taking vitals and helping patients understand procedures and medications to advocating and fighting on patients’ behalf, nurses are at the center of high-quality patient care.

Think about your last health care appointment and the time you spent with the nurse. Your time together may have included your nurse going over your charts, explaining medications, putting you at ease before a procedure, answering questions, monitoring your symptoms, educating you about resources and services, and much more. Nurses help to ensure patients’ voices are heard.

The thousands of nurses who work on behalf of our nation’s Veterans are dedicated and passionate individuals who believe in an important mission – giving Veterans the high-quality and compassionate health care they deserve.

To celebrate the important contributions of these nurses and to learn more about the integral role they play in our health care system, we asked two TriWest Healthcare Alliance (TriWest) nurses to share their experiences. These nurses serve in different capacities, but both serve with the same passion and commitment to their patients.

A Case Manager With a Dedication to Veteran Care

Heidi Pittenger, RN, CCM
Supervisor, Case Management Special ProgramsHeidi Pittenger, RN, CCM, Supervisor, Case Manager, Special Projects, TriWest with her family.

For Heidi, nursing was something she found through the example set by her own mom.

“My mom is a nurse and she’s the most amazing person I know,” Heidi shared. “She has given her life to the service of others both in and outside of her profession, and I decided that I wanted to follow in her footsteps.”

Heidi began her nursing career working in the intensive care unit which provided her with important knowledge and experience. From there, she continued with several years of clinical experience, mostly in intensive care units, critical care units and home care, as well as a post-anesthesia care unit.

But for Heidi, the importance of nursing took a very personal turn when she had her own family.

“My daughter was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was young, and I never imagined how challenging it would be to manage a serious chronic illness. It was physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially taxing,” she shared.

In 2012, she landed her first case management job. She realized, “There are nurses that actually helped people manage their health issues!” She had found her passion, soon beginning her career as a certified RN case manager.

“There are so many people who desperately need help. Just knowing that someone is working with you, beside you, to fight those battles is a great comfort,” she explained.

Heidi’s passion and experience in case management led her to start her own business in 2017 where she worked assisting individuals with disabilities and youth in a secured juvenile detention facility. She operated her business until she came to TriWest in 2022.

At TriWest, Heidi continues to work tirelessly on behalf of her patients.

“I assist Veterans in managing chronic, serious and often terminal illness,” she shared. “I help them obtain health care services, provide education and resources, answer questions related to diagnoses, medications and services, coordinate care and even help with billing issues. I am a listening ear. I assist them in navigating whatever issues they have related to their health and wellness.”

For Heidi, doing this work on behalf of our country’s heroes makes it even more rewarding.

“Here at TriWest, our Veterans have all contributed and fought in some way for my freedom. I have realized that often those freedoms have come at a great cost to them and their families,” she acknowledged.

In turn, she now gets to have a part in advocating and fighting for them to obtain what they need.

“The best part of my job is helping our nation’s Veterans! I feel privileged and honored to serve them,” she shared.

Heidi talks passionately about a particular Veteran who taught her about the power of positivity. The Veteran suffered from cancer that eventually spread to her brain. Heidi remembers how she always focused on what brought her joy despite the fact that she was dealing with serious challenges. When Heidi shared how inspired she was by her grace and gratitude, the Veteran told Heidi, “I’m just embracing the suck.” She used this military term to explain that despite her many health challenges, she was taking it one day at a time, finding joy in each and every day.

“I will forever keep her memory and example in my heart,” Heidi reflected.

Heidi recognizes that changes in the health care industry are ongoing.

“Health care systems can be challenging to navigate for some patients,” she said. “RN case managers remain vital as we strive to ensure patients are able to maximize their benefits and obtain whatever they need to achieve optimal wellness both physically and mentally.”

A Veteran Serving Veterans With Compassion

Val Ranieri, RN, CPC
Manager, Retrospective Review Programs

Val is a registered nurse and started with TriWest in 2005. After a short break in 2013, she returned to TriWest and continued her long career working on behalf of our nation’s Veterans.

Her dream of becoming a nurse began at a very young age.

“I wanted to be a nurse since I was about 5 years old,” she said.

Her passion might have something to do with her family background.

“My family was always in the medical field,” she shared. “My mom was a dental assistant, and my dad was a medic during the Korean conflict.”

Val is the first in the family to become a nurse. Like Heidi, Val says the best part of her job is the people she serves and serves alongside.

Val is not just a nurse serving Veterans, she is a Veteran herself, which makes her connection to her job even more special.

“Being a Veteran, I find it rewarding to continue to serve in this capacity and to assist others in these communities,” she said.

The dedication and compassion found in the voices of Heidi and Val speak to the great work done each day by thousands of nurses all across our country on behalf of Veterans and their families. Nurses like them play a crucial role in ensuring our nation’s Veterans receive the exceptional health care they deserve.

In turn, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) wants to ensure our nurses get the care and resources they deserve as well. According to the VA Office of Nursing Services, VA is working to enhance nursing excellence, build a stronger workforce, and maintain the wellness and satisfaction of its nurses. Hear the stories and songs of nurses who have dedicated their lives to serving our country’s Veterans.

To Heidi and Val and the thousands of nurses around our country, thank you. You are our unsung heroes.

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