HUNTINGTON - The Hershel “Woody” Williams VA Medical Center in Huntington hosted its sixth annual mental health summit Friday afternoon, meeting jointly with outside mental health agencies toward serving their common goal in creating better lives and conditions for the Tri-State’s military veterans.
The summit brought under one roof voices from across the region’s mental health sector, such as the Prestera Center and Marshall University, to coordinate their often overlapping and interwoven efforts, discuss what may or may not be working, identify any gaps in service, and to hear first-hand feedback from veterans themselves.
“I think we’re doing great mental health care here in Huntington, but you can always do better,” said Chuck Weinberg, VA local recovery coordinator. “So we’ve giving the message to veterans that we’re on an improvement program too.”
“The mental health summit affords partners the opportunity to learn more about the experiences and behavioral health needs of area veterans and their families,” added Kim Miller, Prestera Center director of development. “It’s a great opportunity to network and share information about our programs and services.”
Veterans are not beholden to seeking care from the VA system, making it important for outside mental health providers to understand and stay up-to-date on the needs of the veterans they mutually serve, said Kim White, assistant professor of social work at Marshall University and U.S. Navy veteran.
“It’s one thing to offer services, but it’s very important for a service provider to understand veteran culture as sort of a subculture to our larger culture,” White said.
Post-traumatic stress disorder has long been the most talked about and troubling mental health issue affecting veterans since the Vietnam War, but White pointed out current issues surround problems in fully acclimating a veteran back into civilian life.
Regionally, these issues primary to veterans often intersect with existing widespread mental health problems in Appalachia, such as addiction and a poor economy.
“We’re in an economic situation that isn’t always conducive to immediate employment when you (as a veteran) may be used to being in charge, being a leader and being paid what you’re worth,” White said. “To have to come back into civilian society, it can be very difficult for people and the heads of households to not be able to find a job quickly when they return. And that can be devastating for a person’s identity.”
The Hershel “Woody” Williams VA Medical Center serves nearly 30,000 veterans in 10 counties in West Virginia, 12 counties in eastern Kentucky, and two counties in southern Ohio from its 80-bed facility off Spring Valley Drive.
Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter at @BishopNash.