SHERIDAN — More than 70 mental health professionals, veteran’s hospital employees and veteran’s service organization members gathered in Sheridan yesterday for a mental health summit to help identify and address gaps in services to veterans with mental health needs.
Jacklyn VanMark, public affairs director at the Sheridan Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said more than 200 invitations were sent to various stakeholders around the state, including private mental health providers, veterans service organizations and other partners.
While similar meetings have been held in previous years, VanMark said this year’s summit was requested by President Barack Obama for all veterans hospitals across the country, not just mental health hospitals.
“The mental health summit is something that the president felt was needed,” VanMark said. “The goal is very similar to what we have previously done but we are kicking it up a notch. The president announced it on June 3 and wanted them completed by Sept. 1. The White House wanted us to specifically invite outside providers, outside service organizations and stakeholders and then have breakout sessions to discuss where there are gaps.”
VanMark said the purpose of the summit was to help all stakeholders become aware of services that are available to veterans throughout the state and region. She said sometimes private health providers or community organizations may have contact with a veteran and need information on where to direct him or her for services.
“You may be a vet but living in Kaycee or Kemmerer or Torrington and you don’t have a VA clinic there or the mobile vet center,” VanMark explained. “So you go to a local provider for mental health care. That provider can say I want to help you but let’s hook you up with the VA.”
VanMark said one goal of the summit is to produce a resource guide listing available services to veterans that can be distributed to stakeholders across the state.
“The goal today is to come together and find out where we might have gaps and fill those gaps to better serve veterans,” said Dr. Mark Mann, associate chief of staff for mental health at the Sheridan VA Medical Center, during an introductory speech to the group.
Mann highlighted several programs offered at the Sheridan VA that many people may not be aware of, such as treatment for victims of military sexual trauma, substance abuse counseling, psychiatric care for severe mental disorders, assistance for veteran’s transitioning back into the workforce, home-based primary care, foster home care, care giver support, support for homeless veterans and primary care mental health integration to help increase compliance with veterans who refuse specialty mental health because of stigma-related concerns.
Mann added that partnering with local communities and community organizations throughout the state is a two-way street and continually strengthening those partnerships is a priority.
“We want to make sure we are taking down barriers and hurdles and utilizing them (community partners and service organizations) for the special needs we don’t offer,” he said.
One of those community partners, Volunteers of America, had representatives on hand at the summit.
“We are here to become familiar with the opportunities and programs available and to improve collaborative efforts,” said Todd Richins, a division director at VOA.
“In our two programs, we serve up to 27 homeless veterans per night,” he added. “Veterans are assisted in connecting with mental health services, vocational training and opportunities, as well as any other needs that may be identified.”
The hospital’s long history of treating mental health issues has put the Sheridan VA Medical Center in a unique position to host the event.
From its beginning in the late 1920s the Sheridan facility was designated as a mental health site for soldiers coming home from World War I with shell shock, or what is known today as post-traumatic stress disorder.
The hospital has continued to serve veterans from all wars, including the recent Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operating Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn.
“The VA does have very unique skill sets,” VanMark said. “We have developed programs specifically about veterans, for veterans to help combat those issues that veterans have.”