Mental Health expansion proven strategy for seeing 98 percent of Veterans within 14 days
By Kevin S. Abel
Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center opened its new Veterans Enrichment Center on Dec. 5, 2011, adding new classrooms, group therapy space and clinical offices to meet the growing demands for care at one of the nation’s best VA mental health programs.
The VEC is a psychosocial rehabilitation center that provides Veterans living with long-term mental illness counseling and treatment in a Veteran-friendly environment.
This expansion is considered key to the strategy to ensure the facility maintains its outstanding 98 percent access for mental health patients receiving care within 14 days, according to Associate Chief of Staff, Mental Health Hugh Myrick, MD. The medical center has aggressively prepared over the past five years to meet the increased demand for mental health care for returning combat Veterans, while maintaining continuity of care for Veterans of other eras added Myrick.
Since 2006 the VAMC has expanded its mental health staff from 71 to 190 clinicians and support personnel to meet the needs of the growing Veteran population. In the past five years Mental Health has increased the number of patients it cares for from 13 to 25 percent, which equals over 13,000 of the facility’s 55,000 patients.
“The VA is the expert on mental health care for our nation’s heroes,” said VA Medical Center Acting Director Scott Isaacks. “We are proud of the fact that we are making sure our Veterans receive the care they need when they need it, and we will continue to put our resources behind caring for their mental and physical well-being.”
The breadth of mental health services have also increased in recent years. Telemental health for specialized PTSD care is now provided from Charleston to Veterans throughout South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. The Homeless Program has placed more than 200 Veterans in permanent housing through the Housing and Urban Development – Veterans Affairs Supported Housing (HUD-VASH) voucher system.
A Suicide Prevention Coordinator has been added and general Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment programs have expanded.
“Simply put, we have one of the very best mental health teams caring for our Veterans and participating in cutting edge research like virtual reality and transcranial magnetic stimulation here,” said Isaacks. “The Veterans Enrichment Center will add even more to one of the best mental health programs in the Department of Veterans Affairs.”