Mental health care offered to war veterans, families
By ALEX BRANCHStar-Telegram Staff Writer
To help meet the growing need for better mental health services for U.S. troops, a Tarrant County organization will start offering free care next month.
Operation Healthy Reunions will pay for as many as 12 treatment visits for military personnel who were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as their families, said Linda Ragsdale, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Tarrant County.
"It's an important issue," Ragsdale said. "We want to help fill that gap in services for our soldiers who may be experiencing everything from post traumatic stress syndrome to depression."
Veterans groups have recently criticized mental health care for returning troops as inadequate. The Army has said that 121 soldiers committed suicide last year, more than double the number in 2001.
Other studies have shown that as many as 30 percent of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.
In Fort Worth, the overcrowded Veterans Affairs medical clinic stopped taking new enrollees last year until a new facility is built. New enrollees can commute to Dallas.
Operation Healthy Reunions is funded as part of a $5 million grant administered by the Texas Resources for Iraq-Afghanistan Deployment Fund of the Dallas Foundation. The Chisholm Trail Chapter of the American Red Cross is promoting the program.
"We are well known for reacting to emergencies after they have happened," said Jason Smith, chief executive officer of the Red Cross chapter. "This is an extraordinary chance to do something proactive for our military families."
The program will include an assessment by a licensed professional counselor and referrals to private clinics or other agencies, Ragsdale said. The mental health association offers group therapy.
"We've been networking with different clinics so we'll have a broad range of specialties," said Brooke Knox, the project manager.
Project managers will work with applicants' private insurers to help fund treatment but will pay anything not covered, Ragsdale said.
Relatives of military personnel are also eligible for the program, Knox said.
This report contains material from Star-Telegram archives.
OPERATION HEALTHY REUNIONS
Who is eligible?
Veterans who served in Afghanistan or Iraq; spouses, children and parents of military personnel now in Iraq or Afghanistan or who have served in those places are also eligible. The program covers Tarrant, Parker, Johnson, Wise and Hood counties. A similar program run by the Mental Health Association of Greater Dallas is already available in Dallas County.
How do I apply?
Contact project manager Brooke Knox at 817-335-5405.
When does it start?
Knox, a licensed professional counselor, will start assessments in April. Based on each applicant's problems, the mental health association will provide referrals to private clinics, counselors or other agency.
How long does treatment last?
Six to 12 visits to a clinic, counselor or therapy program. Afterward, another assessment will determine if further treatment is needed, Ragsdale said. The association expects to spend about $150,000 this year on clinical services for the program.
Where does the money come from?
The program is funded by a $15 million grant from the Texas Resources for Iraq-Afghanistan Deployment that was divided between south, north and west Texas. In North Texas, service agencies apply for money from the Dallas Foundation, which administers the grant. Operation Healthy Reunions has secured funding for two years.
Friday, March 28, 2008
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