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VA Deal Drives Patient Education on Mental Health Treatment

The VA will work with the VFW and Walgreens to support patient education on mental health and opioid addiction treatment, expanding access to care avenues.

The VA, VFW, and Walgreens have partnered for patient education on mental healthcare.

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- The VA and Veterans of Foreign Wars of the US (VFA) have partnered with Walgreens to improve patient education about mental healthcare access, suicide prevention, and opioid abuse.

The partnership will support overcoming mental and behavioral health and addiction obstacles by offering stronger patient education materials and more ample access to support systems.

“We know that the rate of suicide is increasing for all Americans, but the rate of increase is much slower for Veterans who receive VA care,” said Acting VA Under Secretary for Health Poonam Alaigh, MD. “With this in mind, we need to cast a wider net and meet Veterans where they live to better engage them in care.”

The program will entail several different initiatives, including education for veterans about mental health, ideally to reduce the stigma attached to mental healthcare. The VA and Walgreens plan to deliver educational courses in state VFA meetings. Those seminars will also encourage veterans to access treatment from the VA if they are struggling with mental health challenges.

The three partners will also support the VA’s Make the Connection campaign, which shares veterans’ personal stories about overcoming mental health challenges in an effort to demonstrate how patients can make mental healthcare a part of their lifestyles.

Walgreens and the VA will also issue educational materials about opioid abuse prevention. These materials will review opiate education, the proper way to dispose of unused opiate prescriptions, and access to overdose-stopping drugs.

The VA and VFW will also offer support for Walgreens pharmacists and clinic staff to ensure they better understand the veteran healthcare journey. Clinicians can offer more meaningful health services to veterans when they have a stronger sense of specific patient needs, lifestyle choices, and preferences, the VA and VFW maintained.

The three organizations agreed that the partnership will be beneficial primarily because of its wide scope.

“Our work is driven by our commitment to encourage Veterans to get the care and services they need and integrate mental health care as part of their overall wellness and healthy lifestyle,” VA Secretary David J. Shulkin, MD, said in a statement. “Joining forces with VFW and Walgreens provides VA an opportunity to further expand our reach and connect with Veterans, their families and the community to raise mental health awareness.”

By casting a wider net, VFW National Commander Brian Duffy hopes the groups can make a more impactful change in the way veterans and other healthcare consumers talk about and access mental healthcare.

“The mental well-being of America’s Veterans is of the utmost importance to the VFW,” Duffy explained. “By working with several organizations including Walgreens and VA, we’re able to positively impact a great number of Veterans, and help to change the narrative associated with mental wellness.”

This is not the first partnership the VA has forged with a retail clinic chain. The VA made a deal with CVS MinuteClinic late last month in an effort to expand access to basic medical care in the Arizona area.

The Phoenix VA Health Care System (PVAHCS) will now refer patients to the 24 Phoenix-area CVS MinuteClinics via the Veterans Choice Program. This partnership will serve nearly 120,000 Veterans in the region.

"Our number one priority is getting Veterans access to care when and where they need it. The launch of this partnership will enable VA to provide more care for Veterans in their neighborhoods," VA Deputy Undersecretary for Health for Community Care Baligh Yehia, MD, said in a statement.

Veterans Choice partner TriWest will manage all patient health data to ensure VA clinicians and staff members at CVS facilities will access a patient’s full medical history before providing treatment.

“In sending Veterans out into the community, however, we are always conscious of providing the best care coordination we can,” said PVAHCS Chief of Staff Maureen McCarthy, MD.  “We are working to leverage technology to share important clinical information and ensure care continuity.”

The VA has recently been called into question for its ability to offer veterans timely access to necessary healthcare. These two partnerships are another effort from the agency to support veterans and to resolve some of its issues regarding treatment access.

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