Overton Brooks VA Medical Center
OBVAMC offers help to eligible Veterans of OIF/OEF
The VA’s OIF/OEF/OND program is reaching out to younger Veterans in need of healthcare, especially those who are unaware of how the VA can help them.
“We have so many people here who could use our help,” Laura Campbell said. “There are so many reserve, National Guard, and Active Duty Veterans in the local area who have deployed to a combat environment and are eligible to receive care through our system.”
Campbell, program manager for OIF/OEF/OND at Overton Brooks VA Medical Center, is looking to extend the reach of the program throughout the Overton Brook VA “catchment area,” an area that extends to such areas as Longview, Texas, Texarkana, Ark., and Monroe, La. According to Campbell and her staff, thousands of Veterans in the region are going without the healthcare her team can provide.
“We register them (Veterans) into the system,” Campbell said. “We schedule them into primary care and follow them if needed through case management. We also refer them to whatever resources they need as well as provide support for them.”
According to Campbell, more than 9,000 OIF/OEF Veterans in the local area are eligible to receive healthcare through the VA, little more than 5,000 already are. “We’re at little more than half,” Campbell said, “and we’re still trying to bring in reservists and guardsmen who have up to five years to sign up for care after their deployment. Once they sign up within that five year window they remain eligible for healthcare.
In addition to providing a link between a new generation of Veterans and primary care, Campbell’s staff also bridges the gap between Veterans and mental health treatment through a six-week long reintegration class.
“It’s purely informational,” Ryan Jacobsen, RN case manager and OIF combat Veteran, said. “We don’t tell war stories. This class is about today and the future. We don’t focus on the past.” Jacobsen reminds would-be participants that this class is not synonymous with “group therapy,” but rather meant to draw attention to issues common to many combat Veterans.
“The objective of the class is to give the Veteran an understanding of their thoughts, feelings and behaviors— teaching Veterans that they can recover from their symptoms,” Jacobsen said. “Some people say ‘I’ve got post-traumatic stress disorder and I’ll be messed up for the rest of my life.’ Our message to these Veterans is that there is recovery, that recovery is possible.”
Many Veterans who have seen combat in recent years may not realize that these symptoms are normal, treatable and within reach. Campbell reminds them that they are.
“We keep it comfortable and give them treatment options. A lot of people are isolating from society and we want to get them back into the real world,” Jacobsen said. “We look at what’s different now— the fact that they don’t like that people are unpredictable or unprepared or that their spouse doesn’t’ put enough gas in the car. We look at what’s ‘triggering’ those reactions and help them understand why that’s happening.”
“Triggers” are those aspects of an environment that induce stressful episodes in Veterans. These stressful episodes may range from intrusive thoughts to reliving combat experiences. For this reason, many Veterans who suffer from residual stress may avoid crowded areas or withdraw from loved ones.
“We want Veterans to know that they’re not doing it to themselves and then we start to talk about how to work through their issues rationally.”
Jacobsen reminds Veterans that the classes are not counseling sessions but provides guidance and helps determine what type of counseling may be best for them.
“Our job is to give them the tools and options they need for recovery” Jacobsen said. “It’s important to remind them that they’re in control of their own health care.”
“Each class is ninety minutes and we have the class six weeks in a row,” Campbell said. “We have teachers, instructors and facilitators who help educate the Veterans on what they need to do in order to take the next step.”
“We try to educate them on how the brain works,” Jacobsen said. “When they show up, we talk about what is different now as opposed to before. For instance, many of our Veterans will say ‘I don’t like traffic,’ or ‘I don’t like crowds.’ That’s pretty normal. It’s not specific to your personal issues. It’s just about every day life.”
If you are a Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, or Operation New Dawn, and would like more information regarding the program, please contact the OIF/OEF/OND program at Overton Brooks VA at 318-990-5012.