The Charleston VA hospital on Monday opened its new Veterans Enrichment Center, a $5.5 million project billed as a “hallmark expansion” of its mental health program.
The 7,000-square-foot expansion at the front of the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center includes new classrooms, group therapy space and clinical offices to serve veterans living with long-term mental illness.
In the past five years, the medical center has more than doubled the size of its mental health staff, adding specialists in the areas of substance abuse treatment, homelessness and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The program aims to provide mental health care within two weeks for 98 percent of veterans, according to a news release.
“The VA medical center has aggressively prepared over the past five years to meet the increased demand for mental health care for returning combat veterans,” the release said.
Over that time, the demand for mental health services has steadily grown.
In 2006, mental health patients accounted for about 13 percent of all patients, said VA spokeswoman Tonya Lobbestael. That number has grown to a current tally of about 13,000, or a quarter of all patients, Lobbestael said.
The hospital’s mental health program has helped place more than 200 homeless veterans in permanent housing. Its treatment programs include cutting-edge “exposure” therapy for PTSD patients and telemedicine for veterans in more remote parts of the state.
“The Veterans Enrichment Center will add even more to one of the best mental health programs in the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Scott Isaacks, the acting director of the hospital, said in a statement.