Frustrated With Problematic VA, Wisconsin Veterans Embracing 24/7 Compassion Offered at Community Clinic

New Clinic Provides Mental Health Care to Veterans, Family Members

by Erin Toner

WUWM, April 30, 2012

An alarming number of suicides among American soldiers has been pressuring the VA to improve mental health services for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. As a result, the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department plans to add nearly 2,000 employees to reduce wait times for appointments.

In Milwaukee, a growing number of vets dissatisfied with the VA have been supplementing their government care with therapy at an outside clinic.

As WUWM’s Erin Toner reports, it offers a less structured approach.

Veteran Quest is a mental health clinic in West Allis, though it feels more like a modern VFW post. Clients socialize, sometimes popping in for a soda or relaxing in the patriotically decorated lounge. Twenty-nine-year-old Manny Mora Jr. is often a fixture at the kitchen table, hunched over his college textbooks.

Manny Mora, Jr. speaks with Veteran Quest Director, Murray Bernstien. Veteran Quest provides mental health care to veterans who are frustrated with an increasingly problematic care system at VA hospitals. Veteran Quest is a community-funded clinic that is free to veterans and their family members.

“I come over here, even if I don’t have an appointment, just to stop to chat with the guys a little bit. That’s something that I definitely like,” Mora says.

Mora has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his deployment to Iraq in 2003. He patrolled highways riddled with IEDs. Mora says, when he came home, he preferred isolation.

“Didn’t want to talk with family members, didn’t want to deal with anybody else. Even tried to attempt to find work, but that was another difficulty in itself,” Mora says.

Nearly a decade after his service, Mora continues treatment for PTSD at the VA hospital in Milwaukee. It provides him with medication and two appointments per month, but he says he’s not getting a lot out of those sessions.

“The psychologist, the one I’ve worked with, he’s alright but it’s kind of like…‘Oh…Hi, how’s it going…you have this issue,’ then out the door,” Mora says.

So Mora seeks the bulk of his psychotherapy at Veteran Quest. Volunteers provide services free of charge, while donations fund the rest of the operation.

Psychotherapist Kathy Anderson is the clinic’s assistant director. She says many clients are just like Manny Mora – they are not completely satisfied with their VA care.

“They might be put into a program for several weeks, but then afterwards, they don’t have a weekly therapist, a trauma therapist that they sit down and talk to. That’s what we’re hearing and those are the people that are coming here,” Anderson says.

Anderson says, by contrast, she works 24 hours a day. Clients can see her immediately and as often as they wish, and they can text her anytime they feel they’re in crisis.

“Therapists usually go home at the end of the day. People don’t have their cell phone number. They’re not on crisis call 24/7, but that’s just not how we do it here,” Anderson says.

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