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INSIDE THE FLX: Stakeholders wrestle with reaching rural vets for services as transportation, housing lag (Part 1)

At this very moment there are more than 18 million veterans living in the United States. And the Department of Veterans Affairs is responsible for their well-being. At least in terms of provided care. However, vets aren’t automatically enrolled at their local VA hospital or clinic; and enrolling them is consistently the biggest challenge faced by professionals within the VA Health System.

Make no mistake: Providing care to a long list of clients is hard work. And it’s even harder work in rural communities.

Rushville, Dresden, Gorham, Bloomfield, Romulus, Lodi, Barrington, Sterling, and Red Creek. These are just a few of the rural communities scattered throughout the Finger Lakes, which rely on services provided by the VA Health System.

But when most people think about healthcare – they think about heading to the doctor’s office for a temporary sickness; or in terms of hospital care – a procedure or operation.

What about mental health care, though; and the droves of vets who require and seek out so much more than care for physical injuries from service?

The National Council for Behavioral Health says the numbers are startling: 30 percent of active duty and reserve military personnel deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have a mental health condition requiring treatment – approximately 730,000 men and women, with many experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression. They also estimate that 22 veterans die by suicide every day.

Kelly Mohrman, a licensed clinical social worker with the VA focuses on reaching rural communities. A big part of her job is engaging with them to ensure that vets in these areas have access to vital services.

It’s much more than just providing access, though. Professionals in the medical community have technology to help connect with patients who might be inaccessible for one reason or another. It’s known as telehealth; and Dr. Marek Kopacz, a researcher with the VA says there’s a lot of promise in it.

As Dr. Kopacz explained on Inside the FLX, while beneficial, telehealth has limits. It also doesn’t replace the practice of going to see a doctor. Kelly agreed pointing out that work is being done to streamline services.

Significant steps are being made every day to reach these vets. And once in their care, steps are taken to ensure that scheduling makes sense for every individual. It might mean setting up three or four appointments at the VA Center in Canandaigua; as opposed to scattering them throughout any given week or month.

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Even just registering in the VA system can have a positive impact. Kelly notes that registration helps with funding, and ensures that the vet is established in the system – even if they don’t take advantage of services immediately.

That’s especially the case when it comes to mental health care.

For veterans there is real cause for concern. Current and former service-members remain a highly-affected group of mental health conditions. Dr. Kopacz pointed to some of the most-striking data during the conversation.

Even with as staggering as that data may be, though, underreporting remains a problem for several reasons. Both agreed that through better data collection methods – veterans will be better served in the long-term.

The bottom line: Suicide is preventable. While it’s a leading cause of death across the board – Suicide Prevention efforts within the VA system are running at full-speed. It’s an effort that Dr. Kopacz and Kelly are both passionate about.

“Every suicide is preventable,” Dr. Kopacz explained. “If we ask the right questions and advocate for answers – we can make the community better and stronger.”


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