“…There are other issues in addition to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that veterans and their families face on a daily basis not just upon return of service.”
On Wednesday August 31th, the Veteran’s Affairs (VA) San Diego Healthcare System held their annual community summit with this year’s topic of mental health. This year’s summit featured more than 20 local community organizations and veteran and mental health resources gathered in one room with one purpose: to provide holistic care for our veterans and their families. In attendance were organizations like NAMI San Diego, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness and Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County, an organization that provides children facing adversity with “Bigs” that change their lives for the better and aim to connect children of those in the military with “Bigs” who are civilian, retired, or active military. In addition, leaders of the VA San Diego were present to talk about their findings from last year’s summit, current big changes in the system and address the increasing need for mental health support among veterans and their families.
Dr. Kathleen Kim, psychiatrist with VA San Diego, started the summit by reviewing 2015’s summit findings. She says the summit found that the community wanted the VA to increase the frequency of educational events and to focus those events on education about military and veteran culture. Those in attendance agreed and commented that there are other issues in addition to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that veterans and their families face on a daily basis not just upon return of service. Last year’s summit also found that there is a need to increase VA visibility and participation in community summits, conferences, and trainings. Since the summit, the VA has been actively participating in community events as well as informing the VA community that there are other San Diegan organizations ready to assist them with their needs.
“…It takes so many people to provide a network and framework for care and now with the additional partnerships, veterans and their families have more options.”
Dr. Robert Smith, Director of VA San Diego Healthcare System, says that in the San Diego community there is an overwhelming need for resources and services addressing mental health where the need is greater than available providers. For example, the most requested service is family and individual counseling but there are not enough providers to see patients, specific rules that limit hiring new staff and not enough offices to house on-boarding clinicians. Due to these imbalances and barriers, a huge change in the system will include partnering with other health services, community organizations, and complementary and alternative therapies in order for veterans and their family members to receive adequate assistance. Dr. Smith said that six months ago the average wait time for someone requesting services was up to one month or more and that was simply unacceptable. Now, wait times are down to one or two weeks. Dr. Smith wanted to drive home that it takes so many people to provide a network and framework for care and now with the additional partnerships, veterans and their families have more options.