Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
Veterans leading change: Mental Health Council
To empower Veterans receiving mental illness or substance abuse treatment and their families and caregivers to express their views and opinions about the delivery of mental health services and all areas that affect mental health care, without fear of reprisal. Each member is valuable as they bring their individual experience to the Council. We wish to collaborate and promote an understanding through input, feedback and education between Veterans and staff to improve the quality of mental health services.
This purpose statement is what defines the mission of the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center's Veteran-run Mental Health Council. Since March 2015 the council has been meeting monthly to educate themselves on the mental health services provided by the facility and surrounding VA outpatient clinics. With this knowledge base they are motivated to facilitate the improvement of mental health services and the Veterans' perceived use of them.
"We want to ensure that Veterans understand the different types of mental health services that are offered at the Charleston VA with the goal of making the mental health department better," said Rick Turner, Mental Health Council Co-Chair. "We want to help Veterans with their treatment and aid in their ability to maintain recovery."
The council is co-chaired by Rick Turner and Lester Pittman, two Veterans who themselves receive health care services at the Charleston VAMC. While the council is Veteran-run, there is support from the medical center through VA liaisons, Psychologist James McDonagh and Peer Support Specialist Todd Harwood. These liaisons assist the council with information and are available to educate the council on VA policies, procedures, services and local activities.
"The VA staff has welcomed the council with open arms and provided us with all the support we've asked for," said Turner. "We toured the new mental health research facility, we were given an overview of all the mental health services offered, and we attended the Mental Health Executive Council with clinical leadership. It was empowering to provide input directly to staff at that meeting."
Currently the Mental Health Council has six regular attendees and the co-chairs are eager to watch this number grow.
"The monthly meetings provide a good opportunity for Veterans to get involved in their own health care," said Pittman. "We are looking for new members and want to expand the council to 12 with plans to hold two public meetings per year. The public meetings will encourage feedback from all Veterans, their family members, caregivers, and community partners."
Both Pittman and Turner feel strongly about their unique ability to connect with Veterans by relating on shared experiences. Being patients at the VA they want to help spread the good news about the services provided in Charleston so Veterans in the community are aware of their good experiences and the ongoing improvements at the medical center.
The Mental Health Council meets every second Wednesday of the month at 5:00 p.m. in the Veterans Enrichment Center at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. For more information contact Lester Pittman at 843-452-1241 or Rick Turner 843-725-8261.