Network of Care Web Site Aids in Returning Vets' Transitions

May 18, 2009
Cumberland Times-News

FROSTBURG, Md. — Members of the Maryland Veterans Behavioral Health Advisory Board and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown were briefed on the services provided by the Martinsburg (W.Va.) Veterans Affairs Medical Center when they met at Frostburg State University on Monday.

Ann Brown, director of the Martinsburg center, presented information about transportation, the facility’s hours of operation, services and fee-basis centers.

“We have volunteer vans which take patients from Cumberland, or Keyser (W.Va.), to Martinsburg if needed,” she said.

Patients who have morning appointments and are capable of getting on and off the van on their own may ride the vans. However, Brown said the center is working on initiatives to improve transportation services.

“All of the vans are run by volunteers,” she said. “But we are working on ways to raise the level of service with the vans.”

Wilbert Forbes, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs, asked if the vans have ever had to address issues with a patient in a wheelchair. Ann Brown said no, but the medical center does provide beneficiary travel, funding for the patient to travel to the clinic. The mental health staff also works to get the patient to the medical center when a special mode is identified.

The director also spoke about the Cumberland Community-Based Outpatient Clinic and the need to be open later during the week. Cumberland’s clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The new schedule will expand Tuesday and Wednesday hours to 8:30 p.m.

She updated the board on the status of the transition of veterans being seen at Re-Entry Associates to the Cumberland clinic.

“Our goal is to see all new referrals in 14 days of contact; 30 days for established and new patients with service-connected issues or non-service connected issues,” she said. “And we’re doing good; we’re at about 97 percent for seeing patients within this time frame.”

Ann Brown believes the transition is going well. She said many of the veterans being seen at Re-Entry have post-traumatic stress disorder, which causes trust issues, but the transition is happening.

“We got a list of about 150 names and all but 15 have integrated into the VA system,” she said. “We are working to continually build trust with the veterans making the transition. We know it’s going to take time (to build trust) but we are making the transition.”

Although the Martinsburg center has dissolved its fee-basis arrangements with other medical facilities, which includes Re-Entry, officials there were surprised to find out Baltimore is still working with fee-basis contracts.

“We didn’t know this was happening and we’re trying to find out what’s going on,” she said.

Overall, the board and Lt. Gov. Brown seemed to be satisfied with the Martinsburg center and how the transition for new veterans into the VA system is going.

The advisory’s work groups also reported on their efforts.

Access and Transportation has looked into creating more satellite sites — outreach clinics that may help cut down travel time for veterans. The group said it submitted a proposal for an outreach clinic near Salisbury and is going to explore the option of an additional site in Garrett County.

Child and Family has been identifying partners and stakeholders and ways to increase their sensitivity to veteran issues for private-sector health care providers, institutions for higher education and local law enforcement.

One idea was to create a “gold seal” for organizations that are identified as veteran-friendly — those that have someone who knows how to work with veterans and understands the issues.

Outreach and Education has been working to give veterans every opportunity to make the transition back from combat to reuniting them with their family, rejoining home communities and re-entry into the local economy.

The group is working to provide connections with quality behavioral health care as well as establish two-way communication, encourage VA enrollment, and finding and connecting with special populations. Listening sessions for veterans and families and regional community education forums are part of the plan.

Special Population works with homeless, incarcerated and women veterans. They are attempting to find the numbers of people in each subgroup and address how to eliminate, or decrease, these numbers.

The board received a brief demonstration of the updates for the Network of Care by Bruce Bronzan, CEO of Trilogy and creator of the Web site.

The free Web site provides access to information for veterans and their friends and families.

“No matter where they return home to, they will be able to get the information they need,” Bronzan said.

For more information, log on to www.networkofcare.org.