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Mental health summit focuses on veterans

Sep. 06, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Seeing a 45 percent increase in veterans seeking mental health care services over the past five years, Dr. Janine Shaw, chief of mental health of the Huntington VA Medical Center, decided it was necessary to act.

Shaw led Thursday's inaugural mental health summit at the medical center and was joined by 100 representatives of community organizations and mental health care providers. She said she hopes the collaborative effort will result in a team approach to providing care for area veterans.

"Our goal was to bring the community into the VA to work together for the benefit of veterans and their families," Shaw said. "We're hoping people realize that it takes an entire community to make these things happen."

During her tenure at the VA, Shaw said the center has seen a 16 percent increase in overall general use, but a 45 percent increase in veterans seeking mental health services. The staff has doubled in size, to 105, in the past three years and a lot of money is poured into the area of mental health.

"Mental health is sort of the signature kind of problem we're seeing in veterans from these recent wars," Shaw said. "The federal government has put a lot of money into it, and we've hired a lot of people, but as the need continues to increase, we need to engage the community and work with them so they know what kinds of services we can provide."

Thursday's summit included an overview of VA services and breakout sessions on substance abuse services, employment services, trauma, suicide prevention, family services, use of peer support and more. Shaw said the event prompted the exchange of business cards among providers for short-term solutions on specific cases, but long-term needs must be addressed.

"I think what's coming out of this, what I'm hearing, is a need to form a more formal alliance, a more central entity bringing together VA providers, providers in the community and faith-based groups," Shaw said.

Shaw said many communities have a mental health association that maintains a speaker's bureau and assesses the mental health needs of a community.

"We might need to create that," Shaw said. "I saw a lot of short-term gains today, but we need long-term solutions to be able to hold everything together and expand on it.

"We're going to keep seeing increased needs in the community and having one place to turn for services will be key," she said.

Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.

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