Partnering With Communities to Address the Mental Health Needs of Rural Veterans

Authors

  • JoAnn E. Kirchner MD,

    1. United States Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health Quality Enhancement Research Initiative, North Little Rock, Arkansas
    2. University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas
    3. United States Department of Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Center for Mental Healthcare and Outcomes Research, North Little Rock, Arkansas
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  • Mary Sue Farmer MS, PhDc,

    1. United States Department of Veterans Affairs South Central Mental Illness Research Education Clinical Center, North Little Rock, Arkansas
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  • Valorie M. Shue BA,

    1. University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas
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  • Dean Blevins PhD,

    1. United States Department of Veterans Affairs South Central Mental Illness Research Education Clinical Center, North Little Rock, Arkansas
    2. University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas
    3. United States Department of Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Center for Mental Healthcare and Outcomes Research, North Little Rock, Arkansas
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  • Greer Sullivan MD

    1. United States Department of Veterans Affairs South Central Mental Illness Research Education Clinical Center, North Little Rock, Arkansas
    2. University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas
    3. United States Department of Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Center for Mental Healthcare and Outcomes Research, North Little Rock, Arkansas
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  • We would like to thank the clinicians, OEF-OIF Veterans, and clinical teams who made this work possible. Specifically, we would like to acknowledge Michael T. Lambert, LCSW; Bridgett Larkin, MBA (OEF-IOF Veteran); William M. Moore, PhD; Jamie Mucciarelli, MA (OEF/OIF Veteran); Vince Roca, PhD; Steve Sullivan, M.Div, Th.M; Elizabeth White, LMSW; and Linda Worley, MD. This project was supported by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Rural Health and South Central Mental Illness Research Education Clinical Center. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Veterans Affairs. For further information contact: JoAnn E. Kirchner, MD, VA HSR & D Center for Mental Healthcare and Outcomes Research, 2200 Fort Roots Drive, Bldg 58, North Little Rock, AR 72114; e-mail kirchnerjoanne@uams.edu.

Abstract

Purpose: Many veterans who face mental illness and live in rural areas never obtain the mental health care they need. To address these needs, it is important to reach out to community stakeholders who are likely to have frequent interactions with veterans, particularly those returning from Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF).

Methods: Three community stakeholder groups—clergy, postsecondary educators, and criminal justice personnel—are of particular importance for OEF/OIF veterans living in rural areas and may be more likely to come into contact with rural veterans struggling with mental illness or substance abuse than the formal health care system. This article briefly describes the conceptualization, development, initial implementation, and early evaluation of a Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center-based program designed to improve engagement in, and access to, mental health care for veterans returning to rural areas.

Findings: One year since initial funding, 90 stakeholders have attended formal training workshops (criminal justice personnel = 36; educators = 31; clergy = 23). Two training formats (a 2-hour workshop and an intensive 2.5-day workshop) have been developed and provided to clergy in 1 rural county with another county scheduled for training. A veteran outreach initiative, which has received 32 referrals for various student services, has been established on 4 rural college campuses. A Veterans Treatment Court also has been established with 16 referrals for eligibility assessments.

Conclusions: While this pilot program is in the early stages of evaluation, its success to date has encouraged program and VA clinical leadership to expand beyond the original sites.

Ancillary