Addiction services closer to home for veterans

Posted Jan. 31, 2011, at 8:53 p.m.

CARIBOU, Maine — Veterans suffering from substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders in Aroostook and Washington counties no longer will have to drive long distances to receive treatment, thanks to a program designed to help them, the first of its kind in the nation.

Officials announced details of a new program called Operation Outreach during a ceremony morning Monday at Aroostook Mental Health Center in Caribou.

The new health care services program was developed collaboratively by AMHC and Togus Veterans Affairs Medical Center for veterans in Aroostook and Washington counties. Now, those seeking treatment will be able to receive it closer to home, without first having to go to VA facilities.

Financing will come from a $1.2 million allocation from the VA Office of Rural Health provided over a two-year period.

Operation Outreach services now are available in Aroostook County, and will be in Washington County by March, officials said Monday.

As part of the program, AMHC will offer a dedicated VA liaison who is a retired U.S. Navy combat veteran to ensure that veterans, family members, significant others and referral sources are aware of the program’s services and how to use them when help is needed. The liaison also serves as the direct administrative contact between AMHC and Togus Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s Mental Health Department staff to ensure that services for veterans are running smoothly.

Officials said Monday that there are approximately 11,708 veterans living in Aroostook and Washington counties, with as many as 800 in need of treatment at any given time.

Gregory Disy, CEO of AMHC, said Monday that U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud was instrumental in advocating for increased VA funding to improve veterans’ substance abuse treatment options and increase the number of service sites, especially for veterans living in rural Maine. Michaud is chairman of the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health. Disy also thanked U.S. Sens. Susan M. Collins and Olympia J. Snowe for their role in providing advocacy and support for Operation Outreach funding.

Disy pointed out Operation Outreach means there will be more locations where veterans can receive treatment. There are now two treatment sites, but the establishment of Operation Outreach expands treatment to 11 AMHC sites across Aroostook and Washington counties.

Disy said treatment will be delivered by state-licensed and certified providers, and any veteran eligible to enroll in VA health care services can use Operation Outreach services free of charge.

During the ceremony, Michaud thanked AMHC and the Department of Veterans Affairs for devising and implementing the new program and for their commitment to Maine’s veterans.

“The men and women who so bravely served our country on behalf of us all deserve no less than the best in return,” he said. “Because of this new initiative, local veterans will now be able to access the health care services they need closer to home. This is going to make a real difference in the lives of many of our state’s veterans and their families.”

Snowe agreed.

“The undertaking you are announcing today will help veterans fight for another freedom — this time their own freedom from alcohol or other drug dependence,” she said, adding that she was pleased with the “proactive approach” to treatment.

AMHC already provides a variety of services across its coverage area, including crisis evaluation, crisis stabilization, ambulatory alcohol and drug detoxification, 28-day residential treatment, Suboxone opiate replacement therapy and 12-step programs.

Through Operation Outreach, requests for appointments will be accepted directly from veterans, significant others, Togus VA and other VA clinic providers, Vet Center counselors, primary care providers, mental health providers, hospitals, homeless shelters and other facilities.

For regular appointments, Aroostook and Washington county veterans will have immediate access to service by dialing AMHC’s 24-7 Access Center toll-free line. If a veteran is in crisis, services will be available immediately by calling AMHC’s toll-free help line.

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