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Cory Gunkel

Social Media Manager, National Council for Behavioral Health

CCBHCs: Serving Those Who Serve Us

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About 20 veterans a day die by suicide, and fewer than 50 percent of our returning service members who need mental health care receive it. The statistics are as startling as they are revealing.

As veterans return and transition back into civilian life, they too often suffer in silence or reach out for help in places where none can be found. In many cases, they live too far from their local VA health care facility, can’t access services there in a timely way, or prefer to seek services in their own communities. But there is a solution for expanding and supplementing veterans’ access to care to ensure we serve those who serve us: Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs).

Established with the signing of the bipartisan Excellence in Mental Health Act in 2014, CCBHCs were designed to fill gaps in our treatment system and address generations of sustained funding shortfalls that have left care inaccessible for too many. Organizations that meet the extensive scope of service and reporting requirements to be certified as CCBHCs in turn receive an enhanced Medicaid reimbursement rate that covers their costs of expanding services to meet the needs of the multifaceted populations they treat, including veterans.

CCBHCs have taken a variety of steps to improve outreach and access to care for veterans, including by building and strengthening relationships with local VAs, providing veteran peer navigators, and looking creatively for opportunities to connect with veterans in social settings.

When there is confidence that a provider can meet the needs of veterans, the VA might begin referring veterans. That’s what happened to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton in New Jersey, which became a CCBHC in 2017 and continues to serve a portion of the more than 40,000 veterans in Burlington County – many of whom live far from the closest VA facility. After screening veterans during the intake process under the training guidance of a VA REACHVET coordinator, Catholic Charities works with the VA to build crisis capacity and rapid access to a full continuum of behavioral health services that can potentially save lives. These include psychiatric rehabilitation, peer support, supported employment and transportation to and from appointments. .

Missouri Ozark Center also understands the value of relationships and trust. The clinic is in the process of launching its Veteran’s Peer Health Navigator. The Navigator will help get veterans and active duty service members comfortably through their doors by working with veterans and their families to provide comprehensive peer mentoring, emotional support and connection to medical, mental health and substance use programs. The Navigator will provide services to veterans impacted by a variety of behavioral health issues, including the trauma that often affects their development and adjustment. The Ozark Center is also at the forefront of technological and medical innovation employing a virtual reality (VR) exposure treatment to assess post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans returning from combat.

Building and maintaining trust is one of the most significant steps health care providers need to take when working with veterans. Berks Counseling Center in Pennsylvania, one of the original CCBHCs established in 2014, remains at the cutting edge in this regard. They know successful care starts when patients have confidence in their providers, and Berks found a creative way to cultivate relationships with the veterans in their community – an annual veterans’ dinner dance. The event opened doors with potential patients and helped highlight the unique needs of veterans, which led to service members coming to the center for treatment.

It’s no surprise that despite their short time in existence, CCBHCs have become a vital part of veterans’ mental health, providing far-reaching benefits not only to our service members, but the communities where they live. As veterans return from combat and seek help, it’s important to remember that when their service ends, ours is just beginning. CCBHCs help provide this beginning.