Geisinger Program to Help Rural Veterans Takes Shape


Newswise — Veteran’s Day has a new meaning for a Geisinger team of clinicians and researchers who recently launched the Reaching Rural Veterans Initiative (RRVI). Utilizing financial grants from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Health Resources and Services Administration, the team is focused on developing a model to improve the way healthcare providers identify and care for combat stress-related injuries in returning veterans and their families.

Although Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities are available to help veterans readjust to home life following deployment, rural veterans often opt out of psychiatric and other mental health services for a number of reasons. First, symptoms of combat stress-related injuries are non-specific and may develop months or years following a deployment. In addition, VHA facilities are generally located miles from rural areas. For these reasons, rural veterans often check in with their family doctor for treatment of combat stress-related injuries that may include sleep problems, pain, irritability, poor concentration, excessive alcohol consumption, feelings of edginess or being an outcast, issues regarding readjustment to home life and employment, or even thoughts of suicide.

To assist Geisinger community doctors with meeting the needs of rural veterans and their families, Geisinger researchers are evaluating the demographics of the state’s rural veteran population, assessing the healthcare team’s understanding of the diagnosis and treatment of combat-related issues, developing an education program specifically designed to help the healthcare team identify and treat these issues, and bringing telepsychiatry services to select community practice sites.

As another entry to the program, a Web site is under development.

“Veterans groups have told us that there is a lack of coordination of veterans’ resources,” said Stephen Paolucci, M.D., chair, division of psychiatry, Geisinger Health System. “There is just no central repository of that information.”

“We are developing an information repository for veterans, their families and their family doctors that will identify their needs and provide them with options and resources, such as support groups or access to healthcare providers in their communities to address those needs,” said Eric Hill, L.C.S.W., program navigator.

“We want to be able to better understand the needs of the returning veterans and their families, and help identify underserved areas,” said Paolucci. “We hope to direct better services in these areas through existing groups or through the development of new programs and advocacy.”

According to Dr. Paolucci, the program will eventually offer telepsychiatry at selected community practice sites. This initiative will allow veterans who are geographically distant from Geisinger Medical Center to go to their local family doctors for a direct eyes-on evaluation by a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist who is sitting in an office in Danville.

Currently, the telepsychiatry pilot locations are slated for Geisinger-Pottsville and Geisinger-Lycoming; an additional site in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area is being considered.

About Geisinger Health SystemGeisinger is a $2.1 billion integrated health services organization widely recognized for its innovative use of the electronic health record, and the development and implementation of innovative care models including advanced medical home and ProvenCare ("warranty") program. The system serves more than 2 million residents throughout 41 counties in central and northeastern Pennsylvania. For more information, visit www.geisinger.org.

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