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Statewide effort aims to improve mental health services for veterans

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 16. 2017 11:26PM

Leaders in the mental health and veteran fields say that New Hampshire is the first in the nation to implement a statewide effort to identify mental health patients with a military background and fashion outreach and treatment programs for them.

At least one staff member at each of the state’s community mental health centers is a designated liaison for military issues. Hundreds of mental health workers have been trained on military culture.

And just about every health care provider in New Hampshire asks a new patient if he or she has a military connection, thanks to the “Ask the Question” campaign launched by the New Hampshire Bureau of Community Based Military Programs.

“It’s a deceptively simple question that opens the door to better care,” said Jo Moncher, bureau director and a retired Air Force sergeant. “We want our civilian structures to have a better understanding of our military, be able to identify our military and help them get into care.”

Moncher said the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recently noted New Hampshire was first in the country to embed military liaisons in its mental health centers.

At the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester, the liaison is a Marine Corps veteran. At Riverbend Community Mental Health in Concord, the liaison is the daughter of a Vietnam veteran. At Seacoast Mental Health, the liaison is a civilian who feels strongly about veteran issues.

The liaisons can address military-related issues. Sometimes, that involves building bridges between agencies. For example, a military liaison could get the local Veterans Affairs clinic, which is treating a veteran, talking with the local mental health agency, which is treating family members, said Suellen Griffin, president and chief-executive of the Lebanon-based West Central Behavioral Mental Health.

She said the effort has improved mental health care for military, veterans and their family members.

“We knew we were seeing people, we knew they had unique issues. We didn’t know how to go about treating people uniquely,” said Griffin, who is also president of New Hampshire Community Behavioral Health Association.

In January, 2,500 people seeking help at New Hampshire mental health centers had some sort of military connection, either as military veterans or a family member, she said.

Problems include depression, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, and difficulties for children whose parent has been deployed, Griffin said.

Moncher said the effort was propelled by a 2-year, $160,000 federal grant. She said the funding is coming to an end, but the program is established now and should be able to continue.

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