The VA has identified 4 principles that govern the mental health care they provide to veterans. Those principles are:
- Focus on Recovery – VA is committed to a recovery-oriented approach to mental health care. Recovery empowers the Veteran to take charge of his/her treatment and live a full and meaningful life. This approach focuses on the individual’s strengths and gives respect, honor, and hope to our nation’s heroes and their families. The concepts underlying a recovery-oriented approach to care are very much in line with VA’s commitment to provide patient-centered care.
- Coordinated Care for the Whole Person – VA health care providers coordinate with each other to provide safe and effective treatment for the whole person—head to toe. Many Veterans begin mental health care with their VA primary care provider. VA believes Veterans can continue to be treated for many mental illnesses in primary care or referred for more intensive treatment to specialty mental health care. Also, most VAs have chaplains available to help Veterans with their spiritual or religious wellbeing. Having a healthy body, satisfying work, and supportive family and friends, along with getting appropriate nutrition and exercising regularly, are just as important to mental health as to physical health.
- Mental Health Treatment in Primary Care – Primary Care clinics use Patient Aligned Care Teams (PACTs) to provide the Veteran’s healthcare. A PACT is a medical team that includes mental health experts. Like a quarterback, the primary care provider directs the Veteran’s overall care by coordinating services among a team of providers. If you are experiencing mental health problems, talking to your primary care provider is a good place to start. Many times your mental health problem can be evaluated and treated by your primary care provider, with extra help from a mental health clinician who can stay in close contact with you. There are also mental health providers on primary care teams to offer guidance to your primary care provider when needed. When more complex or intensive care is needed, your primary care provider will refer you to a specialized mental health program for further treatment. Veterans receiving care in specialty mental health clinics will still have their primary care closely coordinated with the PACT team.
- Mental Health Treatment Coordinator – Veterans who receive specialty mental health care have a Mental Health Treatment Coordinator (MHTC). The MHTC helps to ensure that each Veteran has continuity through his/her mental health care and transitions. The MHTC’s job is to understand the overall mental health goals of the Veteran. Having a MHTC assigned ensures that each Veteran can have a lasting relationship with a mental health provider who can serve as a point of contact, especially during times of care transitions. Once assigned, the MHTC usually continues to be the mental health point of contact for the Veteran as long as the Veteran receives mental health services within VHA.
The ideas that govern these principles are sound: allowing the veteran to choose his or her treatment plan and focusing on strengths, looking at providing care for the whole person, creating teams of professionals to offer guidance on treatment options, and assigning a treatment coordinator who ensures continuity across all the programs used in treatment are all excellent steps in providing the best possible care for veterans.
Now that the formula is in place, let’s hold the VA accountable for following its’ own policies and principles! Our veterans deserve no less than the best possible care that can be provided. The VA has the right idea…now they only need implement it.