VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System
VAGLAHS Continues to Offer Mental Health Support
LOS ANGELES – Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur after one has lived through a shocking and dangerous event in which they think their life or others' lives are in danger. In the United States today, there are about 8 million people living with PTSD during a given year. During PTSD Awareness Month, VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System (VAGLAHS) wants to remind those it serves that the Mental Health Department is here to help.
“Suffering is the human condition,” said Scott Fears, MD, PhD, Division Director for Subspecialty and Acute Healthcare, Mental Health Department. “There’s a changing landscape in the U.S. for the de-stigmatization of mental health. I think Vets, probably more than the general population, tend to struggle with the stigma so I think it’s important to get people to realize that everyone struggles at times and it can be really helpful to get professional help.”
VAGLAHS’ Mental Health Department is broken down structurally into general outpatient clinics, primary care, and the tele-medicine groups. There are several departments within VAGLAHS that have mental health already embedded in them, which means that there’s one less hurdle for those who are seeking support to jump over. Those departments include Women’s Health, the Infectious Disease Clinic, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Services and the Geriatric Clinic, to name a few.
“The most common way Veterans receive the mental health services they need, is by talking to their primary care provider,” Fears said. “Their primary care provider refers them to our Mental Health Department within primary care and then their job is to further assess the Veteran to determine whether or not they would benefit from a more specialized form of mental health treatment.”
In addition to the mental health services available to Veterans, VAGLAHS also offers resources to their loved ones via the Family Wellness Center.
“Involving the family unit better helps the Veteran because it helps the support system get the help they need, which in turn helps them to better support and understand their Veteran,” said Smitta Patel, MD, PhD, Chief of Innovation and Systems Improvement, Mental Health Department.
According to Fears, the population of Veterans who receive mental health care at VAGLAHS increases by 15-20% annually. This rapid growth rate poses a bit of a challenge because staff aren’t being augmented at the same rate new patients are coming in. Despite these challenges, Fears still urges those who are apprehensive about seeking mental health treatment to give it a chance.
“I think it’s important for Veterans to be aware that [PTSD] is a real thing and it’s actually very common. I thought it was rare but to understand how common it is helped me realize that it was more likely I do have it and I do need treatment,” said an Army Veteran who received PTSD treatment at VAGLAHS and requested to remain anonymous. “I received cognitive processing therapy for about five months and my experience was very positive and helpful. Knowing that you have these symptoms is helpful because for a long time you think there’s something wrong with you and no one can put a name on it but everyone has a recommendation; until you can identify [the problem] and match it to the treatment, you’re kind of lost for a long time. I think I have a better understanding of PTSD now than when I got out and it’s entirely because of the VA.”
Please visit https://www.ptsd.va.gov/index.asp for more information on the mental health services VA has to offer. If you are a Veteran in crisis — or you’re concerned about one — free, confidential support is available 24/7. Call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 or send a text message to 838255.