Funding a Bigger, Smarter Team to Help Veterans Conquer Their Challenges

Veterans can face a thicket of interlocking challenges: war injuries, mental health problems, and substance abuse—not to mention life's usual difficulties of finding a job and a place to life. When they seek help, veterans can find themselves bouncing around different providers across town. Further complications can arise when an array of disparate professionals converge on one case without really communicating with each other. 

Sounds like a mess, right? 

So it's been good to see efforts under way to sort things out, including an initiative called Welcome Back Veterans, which we first reported on a while back. 

Related: McCormick Teams up with Major League Baseball to Welcome Back Veterans

The initiative was launched with joint support from Major League Baseball and from the Chicago-based Robert R. McCormick Foundation, and it emphasizes treatment for PTSD and other mental health issues. This year, to honor Veterans Day, Welcome Back Veterans is granting the NYU Langone Medical Center $1 million to create a new clinical program at NYU’s Steven & Alexandra Cohen Military Family Clinic.

It’s called the Welcome Back Veterans Dual Diagnosis Program, and it's cool stuff—an interdisciplinary and collaborative effort to bring together mental health specialists, counselors, and substance abuse services to offer vets comprehensive, quality care for issues ranging across a broad spectrum of medical and mental challenges.

“The goal of our new initiative is to address all of the patient’s needs in a single, collaborative clinical setting,” said psychologist Joshua Scott, Ph.D., from the Military Family Clinic, who will help coordinate the new dual diagnosis program. “By doing so, we can ensure that all of the patients in the program are being seen by a team that is carefully coordinating care.”

Special emphasis is given to the clinic’s “bio-psycho-social model,” which treats these complex cases using a blend of group psychotherapy, medication management, and adjunctive therapies such as mindfulness training and meditation.

"More than 25 percent of the veterans and families we see at the Military Family Clinic for mental health ailments also have some type of substance abuse problem—and half of them are referred to an outside program to address their addiction issues," said Charles Marmar, the Lucius N. Littauer Professor and chair of the department of psychiatry at NYU Langone and the director of the Cohen Veterans Center."This is not an ideal situation for veterans and their families—especially those who also face multiple, overlapping mental health conditions. Substance abuse and mental health are interdependent—one drives the other." 

It's worth noting that we're seeing foundations bankrolling more interdisciplinary and collaborative efforts these days to address complex health and social challenges. Homelessness is another area in which funders are trying to herd together different kinds of practitioners and institutions to collectively tackle issues. Education is a third.

Some of this work consciously takes place in a framework of "collective impact." We don't hear that term so much in the health field, but initiatives like Dual Diagnosis Program reflect some of the same thinking: You get better results when you both expand who's on the team and make sure team members are really talking to each other—and learning from each other.