Local VA Clinic Ready For Troop Withdrawal

Published: Oct. 24, 2011 at 10:58 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 24, 2011 at 11:02 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

The Obama Administration says troops will start coming home from Iraq in less than three months and that could put a strain on Texoma veteran's services.

Newschannel 6 is digging for answers asking if any preparations are being made to help the thousands of troops expected to come home. Newschannel 6 sat down with the Wichita Falls Veteran's Clinic and found out advanced technology is being used to reach veterans in need.

Psychologist Dr. Russell Smith says our local VA Clinic is utilizing a tele-mental health system. It allows vet's in the surrounding areas to get help via a video conference session. Dr. Smith says with this new system they are prepared to take on an increase of patients. Especially the ones in rural areas.

Thousands of troops will be coming home very soon and that means there is going to be an increase of veteran's in need. Dr. Smith says, "The VA has been very much aware. No matter what the timeline was we knew we were going to have a massive increase in the number of vet's that were going to need mental health services. We are planning with in the system for ways to expand."

Dr. Russell Smith says expanding mental health care is at the top of the list. Wichita Falls vets fall under the Oklahoma City region for VA Health Care Services. For the past three years this region has implemented a secure video conference, telepsychology and telepsychiatrist system to reach all vet's in this region. Now veterans do not have to drive hours just to get help.

Dr. Smith comments, "It's actually more economical to have one psychologist just like myself stationed here in Wichita Falls speaking to someone in Oklahoma and providing that service."
Dr. Smith says he and one other doctor alone did nearly 3,000 tele-sessions sessions last year in their region. They lead the nation in the number of tele-mental health visits. "Research study shows us that it's just as affective as face-to-face individual therapy. There is no difference when you do the research across those lines, people do get just as affective care over video teleconferencing."

Dr. Smith says the system has been highly successful, especially in rural areas. "Still have a stigma in rural America that you are supposed to tough it and do it yourself. One of our biggest areas we have to really work hard at is reaching out to those veterans in rural towns."

Smith understands how some people may think this system could be impersonal, but he has found veterans are actually more open during his tele-sessions. He says the vet's are not as intimidated and will open up more over a video conference link.

The Wichita Falls Veteran's Clinic tells Newschannel 6 it is working hard to make sure more programs like these are set up throughout the region. All so mental health can be more accessible to veterans in need.

Natalie Garcia,  Newschannel 6