- Associated Press - Sunday, March 26, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - A first-of-its-kind program aimed at connecting veterans with mental health treatment and other resources in New Hampshire is raising lots of questions - just what those involved hoped for in launching it 18 months ago.

Under the state Department of Health and Human Services’ Military Liaison Initiative, each of New Hampshire’s 10 community mental health centers have a dedicated staff member to direct veterans, military service members and their families to available services and to take the lead in educating colleagues about military culture. The centers also have been a key player in a broader “Ask the Question” campaign to encourage health care providers, social service organizations and others to ask patients and clients if they or their relatives have ever served in the military so they can better direct them.

Since July 2015, more than 1,300 health center staff members have undergone training, and hundreds of clinicians have been certified under Tricare, which provides health benefits for military personnel and veterans. So far, about 13 percent of their clients - about 2,500 per month - have said they are connected to the military.

“We ask the question and now, if they say yes, we’re OK. We don’t panic, we don’t freak out anymore. We know what to do now,” said Patty Driscoll, Seacoast Mental Health Center liaison. “We make sure we have the right cultural competency, we have the right training, we have the resources.”

Driscoll describes the new atmosphere as “civilian providers, reporting to duty.” She described one veteran who was uncomfortable having the door closed during his therapy sessions. The therapist accommodated him by finding a more secluded office, where the door could remain open without violating his privacy. Another therapist rearranged her office furniture so the client’s back wouldn’t be to the door.



“It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it was a big deal,” Driscoll said.

New Hampshire has the fifth-highest ratio of veterans in the country, with 115,000 making up nearly 11 percent of the population. But the state does not have an active duty military base where veterans can easily find support, and it is one of a few states without a full-service VA hospital.

It does, however, have a strong history of collaboration to serve veterans, said Kathryn Power, regional administrator of the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, the federal agency charged with ensuring that service members and their families can access behavioral health treatment.

While other states have created some “peer support” positions to help veterans, New Hampshire was the first to commit to a program in its entire mental health network, she said.

“It’s really a powerful statement,” Power said. “The fact that they guarantee that when someone comes into a community mental health center, they’re asked the question, I think it was quite progressive and really distinct.”

The state also is encouraging partnerships and cross-referrals among the mental health centers, VA medical center in Manchester and groups that help with legal and housing issues.

Last year, Air Force veteran Jeffrey Zamoida attended a “welcome home” event organized by the Nashua Mental Health Center and the Merrimack VFW. Zamoida, who has anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, said he later got help selling a home, sought counseling through the VA and enrolled in college.

“Just walking around that VFW hall that day watching the introductions from this organization to that organization to another, everybody knew each other on a first-name basis. It was incredible,” he said. “The last year of my life here in New Hampshire has been an amazing journey because of the connections and help I received that day.”

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