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Mental healthcare options for vets expand in West MI

Mental healthcare options for vets expand in West MI

August 26, 2015

Amanda Jarrett
Published: August 26, 2015, 5:17 am  Updated: August 26, 2015, 6:56 am

IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — The Ionia County Community Mental Health agency has partnered with the Battle Creek Veterans Affairs Medical Center to expand mental healthcare options for veterans.

Veterans can now go to the Ionia County Community Mental Health building and carry out their mental health appointments through the VA via video. It’s an expansion of the current program.

Battle Creek VA Medical Center had provided telemental health care to more than 1,500 veterans, letting them access telehealth from one clinic to another clinic or from home.

Dr. Lokaranjit Chalasani, the Battle Creek Outpatient Mental Health Clinic program manager, holds walk-in appointment hours from a web cam in Battle Creek.

So far one veteran has used the telehealth service at the Ionia County Community Mental Health building.

“We did see a veteran who fought in Vietnam and initially I did explain to him the idea and he’s comfortable with it,” Chalasani said. “We offered him a walk in appointment in Grand Rapids but he wants to do the telehealth rather than driving.”

That’s one of the values of the program, Chalasani said. Instead of driving to one of the clinics around West Michigan, veterans who live nearby and may have work or childcare conflicts can go to the community mental health agency and get the same treatment.

Those behind the program said it could save lives.

“Sometimes PTSD veterans are very comfortable within their own setting and sometimes they don’t want to travel, this is a big asset,” Chalasani said.

“We don’t want people to have to choose between life and their treatment, so by offering the opportunity to bring the services out to veterans in the community through telehealth its a win-win for veterans and their families,” Dr. Jay Cohen, the associate chief of staff for mental health at the Battle Creek VA said.

Ionia County Community Mental Health is the first community partner to sign on for telemental health with the Battle Creek VA.

“It becomes just normal operations, veterans are going to be coming to us saying ‘this is what we want’ and we can even stretch beyond Ionia County so if someone from another county calls us and says ‘can I access this service?’ yes, absolutely,” Kris Hamilton, the access manager for Ionia County Community Mental Health said.

While Ionia County’s Community Mental Health is the only one currently up and running with the program, more are in the works.

In the coming months veterans will be able to access mental telehealth at offices in Barry, Kalamazoo, Cass and Van Buren counties.