VA Central Iowa Mental Health Summit - VA Central Iowa Health Care System
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VA Central Iowa Health Care System


VA Central Iowa Mental Health Summit

Community Leaders Communicating Change

Mental Health Summit crowd communicating for change

By Kristi Catrenich, VACIHCS Public Affairs
Thursday, September 14, 2017

More than 50 community leaders, Veterans, VA Staff, and mental health advocates gathered in Des Moines for a day-long VA Community Mental Health Summit. 

Dr. Gregory Chowanec, VA Central Iowa Health Care System (VACIHCS)  Mental Health Service Line Director, said the summit has a unique and important purpose of "Connecting VA with community agencies to enhance the mental health and well-being of Veterans and their family members through increased collaboration".

With a focus on the "Journey to Recovery" for Veterans working through substance use disorders, the team also spent time discussing suicide prevention as a national and local priority.

Mardi Barnes and Tyler Patterson, seasoned Suicide Prevention staff took time to speak about our integrated approach with suicide prevention and broad range or programming and options the VA utilizes to ensure no Veteran is left behind.  Barnes highlighted how Veterans calling into the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255, Press 1) are connected to local professionals like herself who can offer support and connect Veterans with the services they need, whether that's in VA or the community.  Patterson introduced the group to REACH VET (Recovery Engagement and Coordination for Health - Veterans Enhanced Treatment), which is VA's new innovative predictive model that analyzes existing data from Veterans' health records to identify those at a statistically elevated risk for suicide, hospitalization, illness or other adverse outcomes.  This allows VA to provide pre-emptive care and support for Veterans, in some cases before a Veteran even has a suicidal thought.

Resource Table

Community Leaders were connected to needed resources

The group then divided into breakout sessions to discuss what substance use disorder services are being provided in the VA and community, how we can improve them and expand partnerships, and what needs are still being unmet.  The larger group gathered together to discuss opportunities for better outcomes and further collaboration between VA, military, state, local, and non-profit partners.  There was a call to action for all participants to communicate more effectively and educate Veterans on the many options they have for substance use disorders, to include both outpatient and residential treatment at VACIHCS which is recovery oriented and Veteran centered.  A Veteran who successfully completed a residential program bravely told his story and talked about VA being there for him when he was at his lowest and connecting him to not only needed substance use disorder treatment, but to employment, housing, and support services.  Like many others, the Veteran shared his strong belief that he was going through the program alongside and being mentored by Veterans in recovery as a strong reason for his success.   

VACIHCS Director Gail Graham, shared how locally we are providing free gunlocks to Veterans, increasing staffing and community collaboration through events like this, and all VA employees are taking “Operation SAVE” training which teaches staff to act with care and compassion if they encounter a Veteran who is in suicidal crisis.  SAVE is a powerful acronym that reminds us to recognize the Signs of suicidal thinking, Ask the critical question, Validate the Veteran’s experience, and Encourage treatment/Expedite getting help. Additionally, VACIHCS is coordinating with the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) to provide education and training to 23 substance abuse treatment facilities, funded by IDPH. 


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