Veteran center to expand access to mental health services via telemedicine

The Crossroads Area Veteran Center is at the Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center 2805 N. Navarro St. It opened in 2015.

The Crossroads Area Veteran Center will get a new telehealth system so veterans can more quickly access remote mental health support.

Eva Painter, the county’s veteran services officer, briefed commissioners Monday about the expanded mental health services the local veteran center would soon have access to.

“Sometimes we have veterans that are really upset and want to talk to someone right now. We usually try all our resources, and we’re lucky if we get someone to see them within 48 hours,” Painter said. “And these are veterans that are asking for a reason to live, to wake up tomorrow.”

Currently, the veteran center does not have a full-time mental health specialist. The center works with a contractor who works part-time and thus isn’t immediately available when a veteran walks into the office seeking help.

The new system will allow veterans to access mental health services immediately via the telehealth system. A private computer in the center, which is in the Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center, 2805 N. Navarro St., will allow local veterans to connect with a specialist at the Corpus Christi Vet Center.

The telemedicine system will be up and running in about three weeks once the Corpus Christi office is prepared to start working with Victoria’s veterans, Painter said.

Military and public health officials throughout the country are grappling with how to best address veterans’ mental health needs. Between 2008 and 2018, the number of veteran disability claims related to post-traumatic stress disorder tripled, according to the federal government. The suicide rate for veterans is 1.5 times greater than that for adults who have never served in the military, according to 2018 public health data.

Painter explained that Victoria’s office decided to add the telehealth system when it learned that to access more federal funding to help local veterans, the center would need to increase the number of veterans receiving mental health support.

County Judge Ben Zeller said he, commissioners, Painter and U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud’s office met with representatives from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs last month. During that meeting, VA representatives said Victoria’s center would only be eligible for additional funding if they increased the number of counseling sessions they provided to combat veterans or veterans who have experienced sexual assault trauma. With only a part-time counselor and no funding to increase services, the Crossroads center is hoping to expand its reach using the telehealth system so it could be eligible for additional federal funding in the future.

“It’s imperative that we we start getting our numbers up and that we start using this telehealth system so that we can show that this is definitely a resource that’s needed in our area,” Painter said.

When the Crossroads Area Veteran Center was created in 2015, local officials were initially told by former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold’s office that the center would need to track a variety of different metrics to qualify for federal funding.

Last week, VA representatives told officials that this information wasn’t correct; the most important number the federal government would look at was the need for mental health counseling sessions.

“What we had been told through Congressman Farenthold’s office is that we needed to collect all these fields of data,” Zeller said, “only to find out last month in talking with the folks from the VA that, while that’s nice and good, that’s not how their funding formula is set up.”

During that meeting, Painter said she learned about the telehealth option as a way to expand services. In the future, Painter said more funding could potentially support a full-time mental health counselor to work out of the center.

Also Monday, commissioners received a formal resignation from Constable Kyle Dalton, who was the constable in Precinct 4. Dalton, 36, resigned via an email to Zeller last week. Dalton did not give a reason for his resignation, which comes more than one year before his term ends in 2020.

“This email was the only thing I got from Constable Dalton,” Zeller said Monday. “Whatever his reasoning, we wish him the best and thank him for his service.”

Zeller said candidates in Precinct 4 could contact his office if they were interested in the position and that commissioners would review applications and appoint a replacement.

Ciara McCarthy covers local government for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can reach her at cmccarthy@vicad.com or at 580-6597 or on Twitter at @mccarthy_ciara.

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Ciara McCarthy covers local government for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can contact her by emailing cmccarthy@vicad.com.

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