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Portland VA: Email that sparked worry about mental health care was inaccurate

(Update: Adding video, more comments by veterans)

VA Portland says email had incomplete info, was sent in error

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Mental health care for veterans plays an important role in their ability to cope with experiences during their time serving, but an email sent this week -- in error, as it turns out -- sparked confusion and concern about how Oregon veterans will be able to receive future care.

On Monday, an email was sent by a community care mental health care manager at the Veteran Affairs Portland Health Care System to community care providers, outlining changes to come.

The email stated, "The VA is working to bring back care to the VA as we have capacity, which is evident by the lack of referrals going into the community."

In the email, the manager detailed the current instruction "is to make a VA referral (not community referral) for all MH continued service requests received, IF they have only just completed their initial first year of services with a provider."

If a care provider has been seeing a veteran for over a year with authorization, the care will continue.

A continued care request takes about two weeks for processing and authorization. The manager's email also stated, "retro(active) authorizations are no longer an option. If there is no (authorization) or I haven't informed you it on the way.. do not see the veteran."

NewsChannel 21 spoke with several veterans regarding this apparent change to their mental health services, and many were worried it would cause a backward progression in their mental health recovery.

Joshua Gage, a Navy veteran and a mental health clinician intern with Still Serving Counseling, said, "I see no reason to throw clients into crisis. It's someone who does not work in mental health dictating policy, and basically what they are not understanding is what this does to someone's continuity of care."

Several of the veterans expressed that it takes a long time to get comfortable, break down barriers and even seek the help they need.

Navy veteran Kayla Goodman just reached 11 months with her mental health counselor, so she wouldn't qualify as a veteran who would be able to continue her care services, if the information had turned out to be accurate.

"It was hard enough coming in and seeking help a year ago," Goodman said. "I don't know if I'll be able to start over, it is really overwhelming."

Daniel Herrigstad, public affairs officer for the VA Portland Health Care System, said in an email to NewsChannel 21 Wednesday the information sent to health care providers was inaccurate, and that a corrected email would be sent out later in the day.

"Unfortunately, this Monday there was an email sent out with incomplete information and in error from one of our staff members that caused concern with our community Mental Health partners and other stakeholders who may have seen it.

"To be clear, at this time, we at VA Portland Health Care System will be offering Veterans the option to return to VA Mental Health services for engaging in treatment with our VA providers. This change, if the Veteran chooses, would start once the authorization ends with their current community provider.

"Changing from their current community provider to a VA provider is not mandatory. We are fortunate now at VAPORHCS to have increased internal capacity to serve Veterans with mental health needs inside our system. We are grateful to our community Mental Health partners for helping bridge the gap to ensure access to crucial services for the Veterans we serve," the email concluded.

Central Oregon veterans who were sent the inaccurate email said earlier they hoped that nothing would change for them. 

Air Force veteran Kristin Gyford, the clinical director and owner of Still Serving Counseling, said any change as described in the initial email would impede on the relationship veterans have established with counselors.

"It increases veterans isolation," Gyford said. "It increases homicidal, suicidal ideation. I'm not saying that people might act but we are humans and when people get upset and their support is taken away from them, they can act in a magnitude of ways."

Gyford is still concerned many veterans don't know about other options other than tele-health visits.

Article Topic Follows: War-Military

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Arielle Brumfield

Arielle Brumfield is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Arielle here.


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