It’s been no secret that the Veterans Health Administration has been overwhelmed. This challenge and increased media attention has brought about much needed changes. Though there are still some major deficits and encumbrances that need to be addressed, strong leadership and openness to new partnerships with the local communities are emerging.
One example of change is a new initiative called Veteran’s Administration Mental Health Summits. Per the VA: “Meeting the mental healthcare needs of Veterans and their families is among one of the highest priorities for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). While VA continues to expand mental health resources to meet the needs of Veterans, truly Veteran-centric, recovery-oriented care requires active collaboration and coordination with partners in the community. Through collaboration, VA can promote awareness and utilization of VA mental health resources, help Veterans gain access to community services, and build healthy communities for Veterans and their families. In the interest of promoting community collaboration, each facility is hosting a Mental Health Summit. These Mental Health Summits are expected to help build or sustain collaborative efforts with community providers to enhance mental health and well-being for Veterans and their families.”
Over the past month I have attended the Kansas City, Tulsa, and Oklahoma City events. For every event thus far, each respective VA Hospital Director has been actively involved in the Summit. Equally impressive is that medical directors, physicians, staff have been active listeners to the feedback of the community partners in attendance. So far I have been most impressed with the “Town Hall Meeting” format of the Oklahoma outreach events. There are many great ideas being shared and documented. There are issues such as backlogs in filing benefit claims and the lingering stigma and fear of seeking help within the system due to the impact this might have on continuing their military careers.
From the meetings I have experienced, it has become increasingly clear that the community partnerships are vital and logical solutions that can be utilized fairly quickly. After the discussion groups I was encouraged by the active dialogues between many of the community partners. In fact, I have already scheduled follow-up discussions with a few partners to brainstorm on some of the issues uncovered through a couple of the Summit discussions. Effective implementation, however, still requires the support and involvement of VA leadership.
Over the next few weeks I will be attending Summits in other states and sharing my experiences. From personal experience, counseling and case-managing veterans it is so much easier when they are still involved in a family and community support system versus a homeless shelter, court room, prison cell or prison re-entry with a felony over their head. The latter is also more expensive.