About 28 new mental health professionals will join Columbia’s Dorn VA Medical Center staff by the end of the summer.
About 20 of the new hires are clinical professionals falling under an executive order from President Obama mandating that the national Department of Veterans Affairs hire 1,600 new mental health professionals. As of May 31, the department had met the goal.
The new hires at Dorn will include psychiatrists, psychologists, nurse practitioners, social workers and medical support assistants, which will serve a portion of the center’s patients.
Of the roughly 70,000 veteran patients Dorn sees, about 25 percent use mental health services, said Kevin McIver, spokesman for the Dorn VA Medical Center.
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The hospital’s veteran population continues to increase, with about 1,500 new veterans using the facility since October, said Carolyn Adams, interim medical center director. She said the new hires will help add resources for veterans when they come back from deployments by providing treatment for common mental health issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“We have so many veterans and really not enough staff,” said Ted Jenkins, co-chairman of the Mental Health Veteran Advisory Council at Dorn.
Jenkins was an Army medic from 1968 to 1970, during the Vietnam War. He represents the veteran population on the council and reaches out to gain volunteers.
“We’re trying to reach the veterans that are afraid to come because of the stigma of mental health,” Jenkins said.
The VA also provides support for the families of veterans facing mental health issues, he said.
The eight new hires that did not fall under the executive order who also will begin working before the end of summer were nonclinical, such as administrative staff, McIver said.