Coatesville Veterans Affairs Medical Center
Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Veterans
Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Veterans and Their Family Members
By: Jenna Mercadante, Psy.D., CPRP
On July 29, VA health care professionals and community partners connected for the third annual Community Mental Health Summit. At the Summit, community social service organizations, other health care providers, local government, and representatives of elected officials shared information about their offerings for Veterans and family members. Community participants collaborated with VA health care professionals in identifying opportunities to enhance access to mental health services both at the VA and in the community.
“The importance of VA and community collaboration is imperative in meeting the unique needs of our Veterans,” said Director of Mental Health Services Karen Olichwier. “We want to know what services they offer to Veterans and their families in order to provide a full array of mental health options.”
In total, approximately 80 people including representatives from the Chester County Department of Health and Human Services, the Veterans Multi-Service Center, representative for Senator Patrick Toomey (R-PA), representatives from surrounding Veterans Affairs offices, and local crisis services participated in focused conversations on military culture, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, enrolling in VA healthcare, resources for homeless veterans, and employment opportunities. Participants had the opportunity to have a dialogue with VA Peer Specialists and VA Mental Health Advisory Council chairperson, both of whom have the unique perspective of a Veteran living with, and recovering from, a mental health condition. At the end of the day, the HBO documentary titled “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” was shown to attendees and stimulated a discussion on enhancing and coordinating available crisis resources.
The prominent theme of this year’s Summit was how to meet the needs of Veterans family members and caregivers. “The Summit gives a better understanding for community providers on what the caregiver support program is and how it supports the evolving needs of caregivers,” said caregiver support program coordinator Maureen Miller. In a breakout session facilitated by Dr. Elizabeth Valentine, participants discussed how to find support and education for young children with parents diagnosed with Posttraumatic stress disorder in the community.
Various topics emerged from other Summit discussions. The need for public education on mental health in order to reduce stigma was discussed and ideas of how to coordinate this effort were presented. The participants discussed the importance of identifying Veterans presenting for community mental health treatment in order refer to the appropriate services. Additionally, participants discussed strategies of how to approach and engage Veterans diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder in various psychosocial programs.
The overarching goal of the Mental Health Summit was the distribution and sharing of VA and community resources. The focus was on creating simple and easy connections to VA eligibility and enrollment staff and mental health points of contact. The promotion of upcoming collaborations between the VA and community were highlighted, including the Welcome Home Veterans Job Fair on September 11, 2015 (collaboration between Coatesville VAMC & Pennsylvania Career Link) and the Recovery Celebration on September 24, 2015 (collaboration between Coatesville VAMC & Chester County office of MH/IDD, Stages Arts Initiative, and Crossroads Recovery Center). “You can really see the increased collaboration between the VA and the community,” said Dr. Jenna Mercadante, Local Recovery Coordinator. “There has been a concentrated effort to work together to provide comprehensive mental health care to meet the needs of all Veterans and support their independence and reintegration into the community.”
The Mental Health Summit also provided an opportunity for community partners to learn more about the Coatesville VA Medical Center’s expansive and highly regarded mental health care program. In Fiscal Year 2014, more than 6,000 Veterans received mental health care at the Coatesville VA Medical Center through approximately 98,000 outpatient appointments and almost 2,000 admissions to the post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and homelessness residential rehabilitation treatment programs or inpatient psychiatry. According to Andrew Henderson of Horizon House, Chester County, “It was a wonderful experience meeting the dedicated staff at the Coatesville VA and learning about some of the resources that are available to the fine man and women that have served this country. We have been fortunate to collaborate with the VA in the past and we look forward to finding new opportunities to work in partnership to better support our veterans.”