Salisbury VA holds summit to improve service
For the second straight year, Salisbury’s W.G. Hefner VA Medical Center held a mental health summit Thursday with the goal of creating an expansive network to help veterans cope after leaving war-time environments.
Salisbury’s Veterans Affairs hospital invited 27 organizations and 15 VA programs to the summit, which addressed topics such as post traumatic stress disorder and employment. The mental health summits are held nationally at all VA hospitals, said psychologist Dr. Lyssa Israel, who helped organize Salisbury’s summit.
Organizations invited ranged widely, from counseling to coffee shops that hold a veterans day.
“It’s about providing more seamless care for veterans,” said VA psychologist Dr. Shanyn Aysta, who co-chairs the summit.
The seamless care could come through the National Resource Directory, which is a recently created tri-agency initiative that involves the departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs.
Israel said many of the groups invited were unfamiliar to the Salisbury VA hospital’s staff and would be new additions to the National Resource Directory.
“We would have just sent out an email to our peers and asked if they know of anybody,” Israel said. “Now, with a formal directory, we have more resources to send people to the treatment they need.”
One year after the first summit, Israel said Salisbury’s hospital is just now able to use the directory to search for veteran services. One example, Israel said, is equine therapy. Ultimately, she said the directory is about finding services quickly that match veterans needs.
Besides making connections to organizations for future care, VA representatives and community organizations from around the state offered advice for veterans and family members. As part of Thursday’s summit, veterans and organizations talked during roundtable sessions about the best ways to solve post-war issues. Israel said the roundtable discussions are specifically designed to help connect veterans with needed services.
Raphael D’ausilio, a veteran and VA peer support suicide counselor, said first-person experiences with other veterans is the most valuable way to cope with problems.
“It’s most important to connect because you all have that bond,” D’ausilio said. “For Vietnam vets, most of their lives they were unappreciated and they’re at the point now where they are older and at risk for suicide. The highest risk for suicide is 65 and older.”
D’ausilio shared his experience as an example of how war can make normal life difficult.
“I just had a hard time experiencing compassion,” he said. “My daughter came up to me and told me ‘I love you.’ I just didn’t want to hear that, but lots of veterans are also going through the same thing.”
Aysta said the directory could help with stories like D’ausilio’s.
“There are a million entry points into the VA,” she said.