June 1st, 2017

Program connects veterans with resources

A Military Liaison Initiative, said to be the first of its kind in the nation, helps connect New Hampshire veterans and military service members to the most appropriate mental health treatment and resources.

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Military Liaison Initiative (MLI), launched in August 2015 as part of a larger statewide effort, places a dedicated staff member to serve as a military liaison in each of the state’s 10 community mental health centers (CMHC), to better identify and guide veterans, military service members and their families to services.

Additionally, the liaisons serve as a point of contact for the CMHC staff, who receive training to enhance military cultural competence.

MLI state liaison Susan Brown, LCMHC, MLADC, said New Hampshire has the eighth highest ratio of veterans in the country, but no active-duty installations (where military personnel traditionally live among other military families). Many residents are members of the National Guard or reserves. “They are living and working in the civilian sector, but carrying on their military life,” Brown said. “There are definitely some disadvantages to that.”

The MLI guides service members, veterans, and their families to services they may be eligible for through VA centers, but also in the civilian environment. “If you aren’t deployed yet, you aren’t going to be eligible for VA or veteran services yet,” Brown said. “So, if I’m 18 and in the National Guard and struggling with early alcohol-related issues or depression or anxiety, I’m probably going to be receiving my service in the civilian sector. So we wanted to ensure that segment of the population would receive competent care, as well as family members.”

“We just want this population to receive the most appropriate care in the easiest way possible,” Brown said.

The first step is to identify military personnel and their families. The centers participate in the “Ask the Question” campaign, which prompts providers and organizations to ask clients whether they, or a family member, has ever served in the military. The question is a mandatory field that CMHC employees must answer when inputting client information into electronic medical records.

“The first piece was identifying that population,” Brown said. “The other piece was increasing the military cultural competence of both the military liaisons – so they could be a point of contact – and also CMHC staff.”

Since the program’s inception, more than 1,300 CMHC staff members have undergone training in military culture and evidence-based practices – a total of more than 2,600 training hours.

CMHC liaisons and staff have become very familiar with services offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs and have developed relationships with those who provide military resources. “It was really about blending those two worlds,” Brown said. “It’s really important they understand how to access the VA and help (clients) with any barriers they had about getting into that system.”

CMHC staff also receive training to increase their military cultural competence and understand military training and culture, which aren’t always well-understood in the civilian sector. “It gives them a common language,” Brown said.

The MLI educates CMHC staff to know how to guide clients into appropriate resources, not only related to their health, but also to resources throughout the state that help families struggling with financial, unemployment, legal, housing or other issues.

The MLI partners with the VA, a range of civilian and military groups, and the community. They come together in a collaborative way to coordinate care and also host events, such as tours of the VA medical centers, presentations, suicide prevention efforts and “welcome home” events for military personnel, among other initiatives.

During a recent welcome home event featuring representatives from various military and community organizations, Brown related the story of one veteran who had just returned to the state and was really struggling. “He talked about how that day literally saved his life,” Brown said, as he found the help and resources he needed to receive.

By Pamela Berard

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