VA Expands Recovery Options
Vets With Substance Abuse Problems Have Residential Treatment Center
Joe Gallant, of South Royalton, plays solitaire before lunch last week at the new residential recovery center at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Barbara Bonney, clinical coordinator at the VA’s residential recovery center in White River Junction, chats with residents John Wilcoxson, of Littleton, N.H., left, and Jerry Mulcahy, of Bradford, Vt., as they start lunch. David Medow, of Essex Junction, Vt., is at right. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Kevin Bent, of Randolph, carries his bags from the residential recovery center on Thursday. This was Bent’s last day at the center. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Albert Frye, of Essex, Vt., gathers paperwork in his room at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s residential recovery center in White River Junction last week. Frye made the prayer flags hanging in his window next to the Valentine’s Day cards that had been sent to the residents from schoolchildren. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
White River Junction — Upper Valley veterans dealing with severe substance abuse problems now have a place to recover closer to home.
The Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction has opened a new wing where veterans with alcohol and drug problems can stay and be treated.
The residential recovery center is part of the VA’s ongoing efforts to help veterans struggling with mental health issues as they return from service, said Lanier Summerall, chief of mental health at the VA.
“It’s intended for people who have a severe enough problem that they need that extra support in a more intensive environment,” Lanier said.
The recovery center is a 10,000-square-foot addition to the back of the main medical center and includes 14 beds, where veterans can stay for up to six weeks as they get treated for substance abuse and dependence problems.
The White River Junction VA has long been offering drug and alcohol abuse counseling to veterans in the form of detoxification programs, individual and group therapy, and medication. However, for the most severe cases, when patients needed weeks of round-the-clock monitoring, the White River VA would have to send veterans to a VA facility in Massachusetts or another residential program in Brattleboro, Vt., said VA spokesman Andy LaCasse.
Prescription drug abuse doubled among U.S. military personnel from 2002 to 2005 and almost tripled between 2005 and 2008, according to the Maryland-based National Institute on Drug Abuse. But alcohol abuse remains the most prevalent problem, Lanier said.
Expanded programs like the one at the VA could also take the pressure off non-VA affiliated treatment programs. In 2010, there were 17,641 veterans between the ages of 21 and 39 who were admitted to non-VA substance abuse programs, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. More than half of those veterans were struggling with alcohol abuse, while the next most common problems were opiate addiction (12 percent) and marijuana use (12 percent.)
Since the residential recovery center opened in October, the White River VA has treated more than 50 veterans, according to LaCasse.
There has been a growing awareness nationally about the need to step up mental health care services for veterans, and the White River VA has been a leader in treating post-traumatic stress disorder at the National Center for PTSD.
Substance abuse can be a consequence of other mental health issues for veterans, Lanier said. One advantage in having the recovery center would be the ability to bring in other mental health specialists with experience in PTSD, mood disorders, traumatic brain injury and other fields to create individualized plans for patients.
“The nice thing about doing it in this context is that they are not just seeing substance abuse experts but also other (specialists),” Lanier said.
Dennis Brown, a Quechee resident and Army veteran, abused alcohol for years before getting treated at the VA. He was a heavy drinker, consuming as many as 24 beers a day before he sought outpatient counseling 10 years ago in White River Junction. He continues to attend weekly “relapse prevention” meetings.
Having a residential recovery program would be a positive step forward for what he already considers excellent mental health care at the VA.
“The VA in White River does such a fantastic job in many areas, but particularly in mental health,” he said.
The opening of the recovery center comes as the VA also focuses on improving care for women veterans.
Concurrent with the recovery center, the VA opened a Women’s Comprehensive Care Center in October to provide care for the nearly 13,000 women veterans living in New Hampshire and Vermont.
The VA is still trying to build awareness of the women’s center as well as the residential recovery center. The VA held an open house yesterday at the women’s center and has other open houses scheduled for March 30 and April 27. A grand opening of the residential recovery center took place on Friday.
Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.