Military Focus of New Confidential Mental Health Care Program in Colorado Communities

Civilian Providers in Colorado Mobilize to Provide Private No-Cost Mental Health Care for Military, Veterans

Service members often suffer in silence, fear getting help subjects them to shame, ridicule, dismissal

by George DelGrosso
Denver Post, April 12, 2012

The March 11 civilian shootings in Afghanistan have brought to light the invisible scars of war that can plague members of the military. According to “The Status of Behavioral Health Care in Colorado,” a report released by Advancing Colorado’s Mental Health Care last December, more than 8,000 Coloradans have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. With so many troops from our own communities stepping up to serve our country, we must step up to support them, too.

Just a few years ago, presidential candidates and the media debated the end to the war in Iraq. Now the focus has turned to Afghanistan. Many are adamant about getting our troops home now.

But the battles often persist long after they get back to U.S. soil. What kind of challenges are veterans coming home to? How can we help?

Service members back from combat get mandatory screening for psychiatric and TBI injuries. Many say admitting such problems puts them at risk for shame, ridicule and dismissal. Even though injured, most choose to remain silent, following the unspoken military code of 'suck it up.' (WSJ)

To address these very questions, the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council, in partnership with the state’s community mental health centers (MHCs), the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Firefly Fund and former Colorado First Lady Jeannie Ritter, launched the Civilians for Veterans Fund in early 2008.

In our state a significant number of returning veterans are National Guard or Reservists who live in rural areas. When they return from combat, they may be hit with a double whammy — limited health insurance and Veteran’s Administration (VA) hospitals located hours away from home.

The Fund initially began by providing funding and training to MHCs in rural areas where resources for veterans are frequently scarce. With this support, MHCs in midwest Colorado, southeast Colorado and the San Luis Valley started offering free and confidential services to members of the military and their families.

Services include a 24-hour crisis line, therapy, medication management, support groups and assistance in accessing community programs. In just a few years time, the Civilians for Veterans Fund network has grown to also include MHCs serving Park, Teller, Clear Creek and Gilpin Counties as well as the 10 counties that make up Colorado’s northeast corner.

As thousands of veterans return to Colorado from active duty, they enter a VA system that, while vastly improving its capacity and services, is struggling to handle the major influx of individuals who need behavioral health care.

The 2011 Status Report estimated that as many as 300,000 U.S. veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression. The estimated cost of providing a single year of needed behavioral health care for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan would require an additional $4 billion, doubling the VA’s entire behavioral health budget for the year.

In addition, the impact of initiatives like the Civilians for Veterans Fund and others across the country has just scratched the surface.

It is clear, then, that behavioral health care for veterans isn’t just a military issue. It’s a community issue.

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