Not all VA programs the same

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Homeless veterans sleep where they can, even outside the West LA VA Center where they often get fined. Photo: Robert Rosebrock
Homeless veterans sleep where they can, even outside the West LA VA Center where they often get fined. Photo: Robert Rosebrock

The Orlando VA had a meeting this morning on addressing the homeless veterans population. While all said that was being done sounds great I wondered why I am still asking the same question I have been asking for many years with no change happening.

My question is why the VA does not do pro-active programs, like support groups and have educational meetings with families of veterans before it ever reaches the point where they become homeless. I didn’t really get an answer this morning either and none of the speakers brought up what is being done in other parts of the country by the VA like this.

Families At Ease
VA Program Helps Families Help Their Veterans

Do you know a Veteran who needs help?

“Families At Ease” is a new program developed by Department of Veterans Affairs that works with family members and friends of Veterans of any era to help them help their Veteran get care.

Many Veterans are reluctant to get help for the symptoms or difficulties they are having, or may not recognize their need for help.

It could be difficulty at work or at home, problems sleeping, driving too fast, or drinking too much. Or it could just be that they seem irritable or sad.

Whatever the problem, family members are often very aware of Veterans’ mental health difficulties and want to play a positive role in helping Veterans seek the help they need.

The “Families At Ease” educational campaign attempts to reach new Veterans through their concerned family members and provides information and support to help the Veteran access VA facilities for services and benefits.

A multi-site call center was developed at the Philadelphia, Pa. and Durham, N.C. VA Medical Centers to answer calls from family members and friends, as well as Veterans.

Callers can get information on how to enroll in VA care. They can also get free telephone-based coaching by a mental health consultant to help when a Veteran is reluctant to admit having difficulties.

According to Dr. Steven Sayers, “Familes At Ease” Director, “We take a positive approach to motivating the Veteran, which means while we work with the family member to motivate the Veteran, the choice to come in is always in the Veteran’s hands.”

Dr. Sayers is a Clinical Psychologist with the Mental Illness, Research, Education, and Clinical Center at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center.
VA Program Helps Families Help Their Veterans

Last year Congressmen Filner and Grayson had a meeting of their own here in Orlando. I asked Congressman Filner why I had to watch video after video on testimonies the House Veterans Affairs Committee had covering one heartbreaking story after another but I never heard any solutions or anything that worked. I asked why they never had families like mine talking about how to hold a family together and help their veteran heal or even how to understand what PTSD is. Again, while I was told it was a good point and was told the VA needed to put families like mine to work for them because we’ve been there and done that but nothing was done about it and it is doubtful there will ever be anything like that happening in Congress considering the leadership has changed.

When I got into all of this back in 1982 there was hardly nothing out there for veterans and even less for families. I had to read clinical books to get a clue what was happening to my husband. By the time his mild PTSD was in overdrive (secondary stressor) I understood it fully, knew why things were the way they were and what role I had to play in all of it. The problem was it was nearly impossible to do even with all I knew. That’s the point I keep trying to make. If it was that hard on me knowing most of it then how hard is it for families when they don’t understand any of it?

I read what is being done in one part of the country then something totally different being done in another part of the country while other parts are about ten years behind on work being done. Why is that? You’d think they serve this one country so all VA facilities should be equal but they aren’t.

Then there is the issue of National Guards and Reservists being left out of most support systems and their families getting even less support than active duty military. It makes my head want to explode!

This morning I heard about NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health) and how they are trying to do things with Peer-to-Peer but they work mostly with all families dealing with all mental health issues while veterans have a unique condition that is not based on mental illness but is caused by a traumatic event setting off mental responses. NAMI needs to have support groups just for veterans and their families and needs them big time.

I heard about the Vets Center, which are great and it was a Vets Center that got my husband to go to the VA when he wanted nothing to do with the VA. The problem the Vets Center has is getting the veterans there with transportation. Then there was the same issue getting them to a lot of other support programs there to help the veterans but as the saying goes up in Maine, “You can’t get there from here.” The VA needs to work with bus companies and service organizations to provide rides to the services these veterans need.

So what should be done cannot be addressed until we look at what is not being done and asking why the hell it isn’t. Over the last five years there have been so many “charity” groups sprouting up that my head spins trying to think of how many. Huge issue with all of them is that they are trying to claim they are doing something new while doing absolutely nothing differently. Too many use the same tired research done since the 70’s and pretending it is a eureka moment that will change the world. Nothing worked back then because not enough was done and that is why we had so many Vietnam veterans a few years back file claims for the first time. The VA needs to stop funding research programs that have already been done and start funding new ones.

If a service group starts out offering horse therapy then support them because that really helps. If they are offering to take disabled veterans to a sports event, great. But if they are claiming they are all knowing on veterans needs or make any claim of doing it all, then you better get them to prove it or don’t donate to them. I’ve seen it too many times when they offer nothing needed but ask for donations to do it. If you support a group then ask them what they are doing on the front lines of all of this and what they are doing for the families to help them help their own veteran. If they say they aren’t doing anything then tell them you aren’t supporting them until they do. Make them earn your support by making sure they support the families.

As for the VA I am not sure what to say anymore. When I leave one meeting not hearing what is being done and being treated as if it didn’t really matter, then coming home to see another VA is doing the thing I was focused on dumps a load on my hopes that we’re finally getting close to where we need to be. I know we can get there from here because I did it already. I want all families to have the same chance I had but with a lot less time and a lot less pain getting to it.

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