Gillibrand Tours First-of-its-Kind Veterans Health Center on Long Island, Pushes for Improved Behavioral Health Care for Veterans, Service Members, and Their Families

Bay Shore, N.Y. – Today, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, toured the North Shore LIJ’s Mildred and Frank Feinberg Division of the Unified Behavioral Health Center for Military Veterans and Their Families – the first-of-its-kind veterans behavioral health facility in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that provides critical services and treatments for veterans returning home from combat and their family members. Senator Gillibrand urged Acting Director of the Defense Department’s Suicide Prevention Office Jacqueline Garrick to visit Long Island’s public-private veterans facility, see firsthand the center’s life-changing treatments, and study the region’s model of collaboration between the VA and non-profit healthcare facilities across the country in an effort to help combat the nation’s rise in suicides among veterans, service members and their families.

“Too many of our nation’s veterans and their families are struggling in silence after they return home and find themselves fighting a new battle.  The lives of our brave men and women are still on the line, long after their combat deployments are over and we must put an end to the stigma associated with behavioral health care,” Senator Gillibrand said. “The Unified Behavioral Health Center for Military Veterans and Their Families provides critical services that enable our military veterans and families to be treated together, healing the whole person and the family as a collective unit.  I am proud that this progressive program started right here in New York and I strongly encourage Acting Director Garrick to tour this center and witness the life changing treatments that every veteran, service member and their family should have access to.”

As the 10th largest veteran population in the country, Long Island has a proud tradition of military service, with approximately 150,000 veterans across Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Launched in 2012, the Mildred and Frank Feinberg Division of the Unified Behavioral Health Center for Military Veterans and Their Families offers behavioral health care to both veterans and their families in one location through a collaboration between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the North Shore-LIJ Health System.  The two units are connected by a conference room, where clinicians from both organizations work together on treatment for both veterans and family members under one roof with structured “cross-talk” to ensure optimal family-oriented outcomes.  This unique program is a first-of-its-kind collaborative to evaluate and treat military personnel and their family members. The center is currently caring for more than 50 new patients since it first started accepting new patients in January.

The Center combines both VA and North Shore-LIJ professionals to provide the best possible treatment of issues common to military families, such as long-term exposure to stressful or traumatic events, fear for the safety of loved ones, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, family conflicts and children’s behavioral problems. The Center also addresses the unique needs for families before, during and after deployments, such as difficulties with reintegration that can affect adults and children.

A report issued last month by a White House interagency task force, which included representatives from the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Health and Human Services, praised the facility for improving care for the region’s veterans and soldiers, which was described as a “unique, public-private collaborative model to serve the behavioral health care needs of veteran families.”

“We believe that family centered care is critical to better understanding the complex variables that can lead to veteran suicide and ultimately, to preventing it,” said Mayer Bellehsen, PhD and Program Director of the Center in Bay Shore. “We’re honored as community providers to have a chance to work side by side with the VA to serve those military families who have served us.”

“As a veteran who served in Iraq, I know first-hand how critical behavioral healthcare can be to a successful homecoming.” said Andrew Roberts, the Director of the Office of Military and Veterans Liaison Services for North Shore-LIJ.  “We’re committed to providing the highest quality of behavioral health care available to veterans and their families, to include young children, and we’re proud to be working side by side with the VA to achieve this.”

“Both the VA Northport and the North Shore LIJ Rosen Center are founding members of the Veterans Health Alliance, and are leaders in efforts to integrate and coordinate veterans services between the VA and community agencies," said John Javis, Director of Special Projects for the Mental Health Association of Nassau County and Chair of the Veterans Health Alliance of Long Island.  “This model relationship should be replicated as part of a national veterans’ strategy of care through public-private partnerships.”

Between 1999 and 2010, a military veteran committed suicide every 65 minutes.  From 2001 to 2012, suicide among active duty service members rose by an alarming 77 percent, five times higher than the civilian rate of 15 percent. On Long Island, nine Iraq and Afghanistan veterans either died by suicide or an accidental drug/alcohol overdose during the last quarter of 2012.

Military families and children are also deeply impacted by the challenges and struggles veterans and soldiers face. School-aged children with at least one parent in the military are 2.5 times more likely than the national average to be at high risk for emotional and behavioral problems.
 
The breadth and scope of suicides rates among military families, however, is unknown. Families of service members reveal that there is a rise in suicides among spouses, children, parents and siblings of service members. Currently, there is no federal agency tracking that data. Senator Gillibrand is pushing to include language in the National Defense Authorization Act that directs the Department of Defense to track data on the suicide rates among military families and report the data to Congress.

Full text of Senator Gillibrand’s letter is below:

Dear Acting Director Jacqueline Garrick,
 
I am writing today to urge you to visit the Unified Behavioral Health Center for Military Veterans and Their Families located in Bay Shore, NY. This first of its kind center was implemented with a collaboration between the Department of Veteran Affairs and North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health Care Systems (North Shore-LIJ). 

            In 2012, North Shore-LIJ, the country’s 3rd largest secular, non-profit, health care system, joined forces with the Northport Veterans Administration Medical Center to open the country’s first public-private center designed to help military service members and their families manage the emotional burdens veterans often face when returning from battle.  This facility’s innovative design and structure brings the VA‘s mental health and general care staff to the same location as North Shore-LIJ’s psychiatric health care providers, creating a one of a kind experience for veterans, service members, and their families. The facility is paired in two separate divisions that have a common conference area meant for both institutions’ professionals to work together, creating a synergy and coordinated effort which is unique to this location. 

 In 2012, President Obama signed Executive Order 13625, called the Improving Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans, Service Members, and Military Families, and led the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Department of Health and Human Services to create the Interagency Task Force on Military and Veteran Mental Health.  This task force recently cited the center in its 2013 interim report as a “unique, public-private collaboration model to serve the behavioral health care needs of Veteran families”.  The center aims to serve an estimated 250 Veteran families with psychiatric services, and 400 Veterans with general, mental health, and substance abuse services. North Shore-LIJ and the Northport VA are targeting improvement in patients who suffer from PTSD, depression, anxiety, family functionality, as well as caregiver burden and quality of life.
There are over 150,000 veterans that live in Nassau and Suffolk County with many more set to return as we draw down our troops overseas. As you know, sadly, veteran and service member suicides are on the rise and it is vital that we explore every option available to help our veterans and their families receive the care they need and deserve. Suffolk County has been at the forefront of veteran mental health and suicide prevention with its peer to peer counseling program, and now with the creation of this center, Suffolk County is showing its dedication and commitment to our men and women who have devoted their lives to defending our country.

Again, I respectfully urge you, or the appropriate member of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office to visit the center as this innovative public-private partnership is making a difference in hundreds of lives while creating a more accessible and comprehensive healthcare model for Veteran families which cannot go unnoticed.

 

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