Truman Veterans Hospital works to enhance mental health assistance

Monday, November 19, 2007 | 6:15 p.m. CST; updated 7:21 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

COLUMBIA — Truman Veterans Hospital has created two new positions to enhance mental health assistance for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Stephen Gaither, public affairs officer for the hospital, said the U.S. undersecretary of health has told Congress that 35 percent of veterans returning from Iraq sought treatment at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities, and 38 percent of those treated were given a preliminary diagnosis of a mental health condition.

For the last six months, Kathy Crews has been the hospital's suicide prevention coordinator. Veterans come to her through several channels. Some are referred through a VA suicide hot line, 800-273-TALK, that started in August. Others are walk-ins or are sent to her directly when they call the hospital.

Once Crews, a registered nurse, makes contact with a veteran, she learns that person’s needs and connects them with treatment specialists such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.

“I coordinate their care,” Crews said.

Joseph Hinkebein, recovery coordinator at Truman Memorial, said his job is to change the treatment regimen for veterans from the medical model to the recovery model as well as to promote this new way of thinking across the hospital.

The medical model seeks to “stabilize and eliminate symptoms if possible” most often through the use of medication, while the recovery model is aimed more at total recovery, Hinkebein said.

Hinkebein, who holds a doctorate in counseling psychology from MU, said he tries to help patients regain all spheres of their “social, vocational and recreational” lives.

At the most recent Missouri conference of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than half of the discussion was devoted to post-traumatic stress disorder and returning veterans issues, said Cindi Keele, executive director of the Missouri chapter of the National Alliance.

“The reason that we’ve crafted our conference around veterans is that we’ve been getting lots of calls from veterans about those mental health issues,” Keele said. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, sleeping problems and risky behavior are among the problems Iraq veterans face, she said.

These are all very common among Iraq veterans,” she said, “especially those with multiple deployments.”

A study by Army doctors published in the Nov. 14 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association examined health assessments of 88,235 soldiers returning from Iraq between June 2005 and December 2006. The study found that 20.3 percent of active soldiers and 42.4 percent of reserve soldiers needed mental health treatment or were already receiving it. Furthermore, the percentage of veterans who worried about conflict with others rose fourfold from the first assessment to the second, the study reported.

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