Saturday, April 4, 2009

A unique partnership: Behavioral Health collaborates with Veterans Services

This is in King County Calif.. More counties need to collaborate services to Veterans

From: James []
Sent: Friday, April 03, 2009 5:38 AM
To: coloneldan
Subject: A unique partnership:

A unique partnership: Behavioral Health collaborates with Veterans Services

By Cynthia J. Wright, Advance Editor

When our nation's veterans return from the horrors of war, many of them need help to reintegrate into mainstream society. More than that, some need help remembering how to interact with their children, spouses and other family members.

Of those returning from war-torn posts, nationwide, 15-20 percent will suffer symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the Kings County Veterans Services Office (VSO). The percentages are even higher when referring to those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

Yet many don't get the help they need.

"The symptoms are not as obvious as most injuries and are often overlooked," Joe Wright, veterans services officer/public guardian for Kings County, said. "The veterans sometimes don't recognize that what they are dealing with may be related to PTSD/TBI."

Wright said the process to diagnose PTSD/TBI can be very lengthy and talking about the stressors that may be causing the PTSD related issues are sometimes very difficult for the veteran. Throw in Kings County's relative isolation from a veterans hospital, the closest being in Fresno, and getting Kings County area veterans the help they need becomes even more difficult.

"A couple of years ago I realized that we had veterans coming to us for services that weren't being met by the VA," Wright said. "We had veterans that came into our office with PTSD issues. We would get them set up with the Veterans Center in Fresno to begin the process of getting a PTSD diagnosis so we could then file a claim."

Wright explained that process has several steps over a two to three month period. He said some veterans don't complete the process for various reasons. Without a PTSD diagnosis the VSO can't file a claim. Without the claim, veterans aren't designated as having serviced-connected PTSD. While counseling help is still available at the Veterans Center, more in-depth care is harder to get from the Veterans Hospital.

"It's not that VA isn't providing adequate services, the problem is the services provided don't always work for the veteran," Wright said. "Getting to and from the appointments is sometimes an issue. Veterans with PTSD many times have trouble 'opening up' to talk about their experiences."

He said the relationship between the veteran and the doctor is critical.

"We've had a case where the local doctor was replaced" Wright said. "Several veterans who were seeing this doctor did not 'click' with the new doctor and just quit going."

Wright said once he saw what was happening he went to Mary Anne Ford Sherman for help.

Ford Sherman is the director of Kings County Behavioral Health (KCBH) and a veteran herself. Wright and Ford Sherman have been working to find ways to provide services to veterans who fall through the cracks of the VA system. Through the collaboration between the two county departments, veterans who have had trouble getting the care they need through the VA can seek help through KCBH.

"The commitment to serve vets and active duty military families is about keeping our promise to them and all they have sacrificed. We have an obligation to recognize, acknowledge and reach out to our veterans with all that we can to ensure their physical and emotional wellness and safety," Ford Sherman said. "It is the least we can do because they give that to us every day they serve."

The relationship that Kings County's VSO and KCBH have formed to meet this growing need is unique for a county the size of Kings County.

"It always boils down to two people in a room having a desire to do something better, and coming up with a plan," Ford Sherman said. "I think for us, we discovered we both have the same mission in a nano second and we just ran with it."

Ford Sherman said KCBH is partnering with the VSO and funding several projects, including:

1. Brochures and outreach materials for veterans and their family members to increase awareness on services and challenges veterans and their families face.

2. A media campaign with billboards to educate, acknowledge military contributions and reach out to veterans regarding mental health issues, addiction challenges or other opportunities to receive help in their community.

3. Behavioral Health is launching a training program for clinicians/case managers regarding PTSD/TBI resources and approaches of help.

4. Funding, building and launching a "Veteran's Network of Care" Web site for Kings County.

5. A full time public guardian tech to provide financial guidance to individuals who need help navigating their money in a positive way (which ensures less homelessness, models for consumers how their finances can stabilize their lives, take responsibility and make sound decisions).

There are about 14,000 veterans living in Kings County, according to Wright. Most of those are married and have children. That equates to about 25 to 30 percent of the county population who are eligible for some sort of veteran benefit.

In many counties, Wright said, there is no working relationship between the VSO and the behavioral health department.

"As a department head, I have direct access to the Behavioral Health department head," Wright said. "In most small counties, the VSO is buried in some other department making it very difficult to work closely with their BH departments. Plus, Mary Anne is a veteran and understands the issues better than most."

Ford Sherman recently spoke at a state-wide VSO conference about the possibilities of what could be done in a small county, using the collaboration between Kings County's BH and VSO as an example.

"The VSOs in each county are hungry for information on how to access care for their veterans," Ford Sherman said. "Veterans are trying to access mental health and AOD (alcohol and other drugs) systems and are sometimes being turned away."

She said the assumption is made that because they are vets, they are getting services from the VA. But as she and Wright have learned, this isn't always the case.

"Joe and I have educated ourselves on the resources together, through a Veterans Center orientation and meeting, a VA Hospital meeting, monthly meetings together and a review of legislation," Ford Sherman said.

Ford Sherman said the media campaign and the billboards are aimed at the families, letting them know there is help within the county if there is a problem when their sailor, marine, airman or soldier comes home. The billboards' other purpose is to let the community know there is a problem.

"Many times the problems are filtered through the family, not the sailor or soldier," she said. "That's where we need to (watch for) problems in the home."

The billboards, which are specifically tailored for the Kings County community, went up in four locations late last week. For more information about KCBH, call 582-3211, ext. 2382. For more information about VSO call 582-3211, ext. 2662. Both departments can be accessed through the Kings County Web site,

(April 2, 2009)

A unique partnership: Behavioral Health collaborates with Veterans Services

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