LVMAC News — Dr. Bhatia Speaks About the VA’s Mental Health Efforts

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Dr. Aruna Bhatia, Chief of Mental/Behavioral Health Services spoke to the Council at its business meeting on  19 December on the advances in care by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In an honest and straightforward talk, she stated there has been a focus on mental health over the last decade and a lot of work done in recovery,  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and suicide prevention, albeit with some stumbling along the way.

PTSD has been the most prevalent issue for several decades now but has been existence as long as war has been in existence.  The VA has over a half century of data and it was the VA who first got the disorder recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) which is used by mental health professionals to diagnose, classify and guide the treatment of patients.

Now the emphasis is upon recovery, that is, problem-solving, and not stasis, she said. The VA has moved to a Recovery Orientation Model.

In that vein, the doctor talked about homelessness, since substance abuse dependence (a behavioral health issue) often accompanies it.  The VA has put a major focus on ending the problem of homelessness for veterans and in so doing has recognized it must eliminate other barriers to recovery in addition to medical/behavioral health treatment.

Consequently, one of the more recent developments has been the establishment of recovery coordinator positions — there is one at the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center — and they can help guide patients and family members who have questions and needs as they recover back to full health.

Another new development has been in the area of telehealth at Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center. Tele-mental health treatment is being used and tele-retinal technology for follow-ups is coming.

The medical center has also increased its psychologists and psychiatrists and added a dedicated nursing and “physician extender” staff for mental health at the Allentown VA Outpatient Clinic. They are looking at further expanding at the clinic.

The VA is working with the Department of Defense on improving the transition in care when servicemember discharges, to make it seemingly seamless. The VA now has cross-over coordinators. [Editor’s note: We are unsure if she was referring to the federal recovery coordination system for severely injured veterans.  However in general, the issue of seamless transition has been a longstanding problem recognized at Washington levels and talked about for almost a decade, and while there has been progress, it remains problematic in its execution in the field.]

Bhatia also mentioned VA Veterans Centers (which the Lehigh Valley does not have) and the need for the  VA hospital networks to better integrate their services with them.

A series of good questions from the audience then occurred, and the feedback enlivened the discussion.


As of 21 December 2012