Debbie Rafael Shanley: Building Trust


November 11 is Veteran’s Day, honoring the military Veterans of the United States Armed Forces.

There are nearly a million and a half Latino Veterans, that’s about 8 percent of the Veteran population. By 2045, that figure is projected to reach 12 percent, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Hispanic/Latino Veterans report experiencing more challenges with access to care, person-centered care, and care coordination when compared with non-Hispanic white Veterans. 

The findings of the National Veteran Health Equity Report conclude that work is needed to improve the Veteran experience of care among Hispanic/Latino Veterans. Better information on Hispanic/Latino Veterans, including granular ethnicity, could further understand observed disparities.

Minority Veterans Program Coordinators work to increase awareness of issues about minority Veterans, including developing long-term strategies to encourage eligible minority veterans to participate in VA benefit programs.

Debbie Rafael Shanley, the Minority Veteran Program Coordinator with the Jesse Brown VA Medical Centerwas a guest on the program “3 Questions With…” hosted by Hugo Balta, publisher of IL Latino News.

The Center for Minority Veterans works to ensure all veterans receive equal service regardless of race, origin, religion, or gender.  

“I’m a clinical social worker, so I am astute to the areas of psychological safety, historical trauma, and systemic racism,” Shanley said. “Making sure that we are understanding these things in the community to make sure we engage our minority Veterans.”

Shanley shared some of the challenges her office needs to overcome in reaching Latino Veterans, including cultural nuances. “I hosted subject matter experts to talk about spirituality in the hospital; to make sure our clinicians are aware of the role of spirituality in the Latino community as it relates as it relates to health care outcomes, as it relates to health-seeking behaviors,” she said.

Ralph U. Rafael
US Navy
Training Command 1968
San Diego, California

Shanley’s father enlisted in the Philippines to go to Vietnam at age nineteen. He served in the U.S. Navy for nine years and became a naturalized citizen. “It’s part of my mission to help people like my father,” she said in describing how often Veterans don’t leverage the benefits afforded to them and their families. “It took a couple of years to convince him (to engage with the VA)…and I don’t think he wants to go anywhere else,” Shanley said in sharing that when her father contracted COVID-19, the only place he wanted to go to was the VA.

A child of immigrants, Shanley said this about what she learned about herself in the work she leads, “You have to be able to show a little bit of your insecurities.” She identifies that type of transparency as critical to building trust with communities that are skeptical of government.

Links to resources:

Veterans Health Administration (

VA Chicago Health Care | Veterans Affairs

Chicago VA Medical Center | Chicago IL | Facebook

Chicago VA Medical Center (@vachicago) • Instagram photos and videos

Center for Minority Veterans (CMV) (

“3 Questions With…” is co-produced by the Latino News Network (LNN) and CAN TV, Chicago’s hub for community-centric news, hyperlocal stories, and educational resources.

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