After returning home from active duty, many veterans struggle with behavioral health problems, family reintegration difficulties, and relationship problems. Although many veterans are eligible to receive care at Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) health facilities, family members are generally not eligible and therefore must seek care elsewhere. This situation can pose a barrier to family members’ access to care and also make it more difficult for veterans and families to receive high-quality services that are coordinated across providers.

A new model of behavioral health care is trying to address these barriers. Created by the Northwell Health System and the Northport VA Medical Center, the UBHC represents a public-private partnership that provides co-located and coordinated care for veterans and their families. The VA center and private provider are located on either side of the same facility. Many centers across the U.S. are using this type of collaboration, but New York State is at the forefront.

NYHealth President and CEO David Sandman, Ph.D., welcomed attendees and shared the Foundation’s long-standing interest in veterans’ health issues. Derek Coy, Veterans’ Health Officer, spoke of his personal experiences in the Marines and emphasized the importance of building on lessons learned so that each generation of veterans has better opportunities than the last.

Joe Hunt, Director of the Veterans Mental Health Coalition of MHA-NYC, gave a brief overview on the purpose of the event and panel discussions. The first panel comprised Amy Scott, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist at the Bay Shore VA, and Mayer Bellehsen, Ph.D., Director of the Feinberg Division of the UBHC. The panelists provided an overview of how the UBHC came to be, discussing the specific objectives and challenges of establishing the Center. Both agreed on several key components of establishing this kind of collaboration, including senior leadership buy-in, prime geographic location, the co-location of services, “champions” on both sides who are committed to the partnership, and staff who are able to provide culturally competent care to veterans and their families.

The second panel focused on the RAND evaluation of the UBHC. Nicole Eberhart, Ph.D., Behavioral Scientist at the RAND Corporation, provided an overview of evaluation strategies, key findings from the evaluation, and key recommendations for the UBHC moving forward, as well as for other programs interested in replicating this model. The evaluation was intended to assess the viability of this new approach to behavioral health care, identify implementation challenges and successes, and assess the impact on patient health. Eighty-six percent of patients were highly satisfied with the services they received, and 89% of them stated they would refer their friends or family members to the Center. Overall, RAND concluded that the pilot of this unique model has been successfully implemented by the UBHC and has the potential to be helpful to more veterans and their families through implementation in other centers.

The third panel, moderated by Ann Feder, L.C.S.W., Mental Health Care Line Programs Manager at the VA of NY/NJ Healthcare Network, focused on public-private collaborations across New York State that are helping to improve access to quality behavioral health services for veterans and their families. Panelists discussed their respective public-private programs and were asked to address key challenges in building, sustaining, and growing their partnership models.

Wendy Brennan, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)-NYC Metro, spoke of NAMI peer-to-peer programs available to veterans and their families. She emphasized that it is critically important to encourage veterans’ family members to get the care they need, especially given that many of them are themselves caretakers for the veteran. Amanda Spray, Ph.D., Assistant Director of the Steven A. Cohen Military Clinic, explained that the Clinic, located within NYU Langone Medical Center, works with the VA in a complementary, non-competitive way. Because of her unique position as the direct liaison between the Clinic and Manhattan/Brooklyn VAs, she is able to connect with veterans directly; over time she has built a level of trust critical to getting veterans and their families to access the services they need.

Finally, Terri Tanielian, M.A., Senior Behavioral Scientist at the RAND Corporation, discussed how New York State-based public-private partnership models fit within the broader landscape of public-private partnerships. She explained that in her work measuring these partnerships over the past decade, she has seen positive progress in efforts among program partners to collaborate efficiently and effectively. A few best-practice programs have emerged, such as the Warrior Care Network funded by the Wounded Warrior Project and the Welcome Back Veterans initiative funded by the Major League Baseball Charities; however, there is still much work to be done before we reach a fully integrated public-private system of care for veterans and their families.

Closing remarks were provided by Loree Sutton, M.D., Brigadier General, U.S. Army (Ret.), Commissioner of the New York City Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS). She emphasized that the needs of veterans and their families are complex, and that those treating them should work together in a synchronized, transparent, systems-wide approach instead of the traditionally competitive, siloed approach. As the head of a newly formed City agency, she acknowledged DVS’s unique position to demonstrate the importance of municipal investment in building coordinated networks and leveraging public and private resources to further improve the services provided to veterans and their families.

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