Wednesday, November 5, 2008

GMC gets $375K to aid veterans

GMC gets $375K to aid veterans

By Gina Morton
The Daily Item

DANVILLE -- One of every three Pennsylvania veterans under the age of 44 lives in a rural area, often making access to medical service difficult.

Roughly 226,090 veterans live within the Geisinger Health System coverage area, prompting system officials to launch the Reaching Rural Veterans Initiative, a model for identifying and caring for combat stress injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder in returning veterans and their families.

Hospital officials, who have been analyzing the program for several months, recently were notified that $375,000 in state funding will be awarded for the project.

"More and more of central Pennsylvania is being called over to Iraq and Afghanistan and returning home," said Dr. Stephen Paolucci, chairman of psychiatry at the hospital. "A significant proportion of those military personnel are coming from rural areas."

More than 75,000 veterans nationwide have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. State numbers were not immediately available.

That raised questions about how that is impacting health care of both members of the military and of their families who are trying to cope without a family member, Paolucci said.

Working through Geisinger's electronic medical records and local resources, there were indications that many veterans were not accessing services available to them.

"With the increasing numbers of Traumatic Brain Injury and its association with PTSD," he said, "we felt that with funding we could develop programs that could really address the need that isn't being fully addressed with resources out there."

This program would improve electronic-based screening and diagnostic and treatment tools to make better screening, treatment and referral decisions.

$375,000 in state funding

With the help of state Rep. Merle Phillips, Geisinger has been notified it will receive $375,000 in state funds to start the project.

"I think it's a great idea and it's something that veterans deserve," Phillips said. "A lot of times they may not go for treatment and not necessarily realize (they have a disorder). This could save a lot of young individuals and help them to address the situation that they may have."

Phillips said he put in the request for the Geisinger funding despite the fact the medical center is not in his district, but noted Rep. Robert E. Belfanti Jr., D-107 of Mount Carmel, Sen. John Gordner, R-23 of Berwick, and many other state legislators support the idea.

"Many individuals in my district are seeing doctors there," Phillips said. "I don't look at it as a district, I look at it as what's good. It's important to veterans. There are known to be a number of suicides of veterans coming back with PTSD and maybe they don't realize that's part of the problem."

Paolucci said the hospital has sought federal money, too, but hasn't heard about that yet.

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