- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - VA Montana has dissolved its urgent mental health unit in favor of additional long-term beds at Fort Harrison west of Helena.

The Veterans Affairs hospital had called the closure temporary when it shuttered the acute inpatient psychiatric service in February. The services were permanently ended on July 20 because of a lack of demand.

The eight-bed crisis unit was consistently under capacity because about half of veterans who require short-term care seek it closer to home, Chief of Behavioral Health Chris Childers said.

“With review of the demand for residential and lack of demand for acute psychiatry, it was clear that VA Montana could serve more veterans and not have empty beds if the acute beds were converted to treating those wanting residential treatment,” Childers said.

Fort Harrison’s Residential Rehabilitation and Treatment Program absorbed the acute-care resources after minimal construction. VA Montana spokesman Brandon Freitas said the cost of labor and materials was about $25,000.

The eight beds were added to the program’s existing 16 beds dedicated to treating post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. The residential program has been at 90 percent capacity since the expansion was completed two weeks ago, Childers said.

Patients at the program build camaraderie, reflect and learn techniques to relax during treatment that typically lasts six weeks, Childers said. Fort Harrison operates Montana’s only outpatient facility that treats PTSD and substance abuse, Childers said.

The program was expanded as lawmakers accused the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs of hiding details of a budget crisis. Congress approved more than $3 billion last week to backfill the VA’s shortfall.

Freitas said the budget conflict did not affect Montana services or the conversion of the mental health unit, which was approved in April.

“The coffers have been opened,” Freitas said. “We don’t have any new money, but we can pay the bills.”


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