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Reaching out to veterans

February 4, 2013
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Part 1 of 2

Although automation may seem convenient at times, some say it’s important to realize that it’s not always what’s best for the services provided in the addiction treatment field and the people who are served.  A more significant factor is ease of contact, according to Fred Trapassi, Jr., Vice President of Rhode Island Services for Phoenix House. “Treatment is something that you need on demand.  When a person says they’re ready to go into treatment, we as providers, try to get them in immediately because we know that if we lose time, we lose the client,” he explains.

Four years ago, Phoenix House partnered with the local United Way, which was operating a phone bank called “211.”  Phoenix House offered free assessments for two months; anyone calling the United Way phone line, and deemed to be in need of treatment, would immediately be connected with a Phoenix House representative for a brief phone screen.  This would determine what level of care appeared to be most appropriate, and would be followed by a face-to-face assessment within 24 hours. 

This January, Phoenix House offered the free assessments for the fourth year and Trapassi says that although the facility still provided a face-to-face assessment to anyone who called, it wanted to focus this time on a certain subgroup—veterans. Therefore, in December, the organization paid for a print advertisement in the Providence Journal that was also featured on the newspaper’s website to make veterans and their loved ones aware of the service. 

Trapassi says they chose this population to focus on because over the past 12 months, “Of those reporting that they’re either currently in the military or veterans, it’s probably around 11 or 12% of our total client population.”  However, he recognizes that this number is probably low because many times clients don’t want to acknowledge the fact that they are active-duty military because they believe it could interfere with their career or jeopardize their benefits.

Additionally, “Knowing that frequently this population does not have insurance,” Trapassi says, “we felt even more so that we really wanted to reach out and let them know that if they called us, there would be no barriers whatsoever to them coming in and at least getting that initial assessment.”

If a person was assessed as needing and being appropriate for the services at Phoenix House, Trapassi explains, he/she would receive the services as well, more than likely free-of-charge if they were uninsured.

Since Phoenix House is a behavioral healthcare organization, it can provide mental health services also— but only in cases where the individual has a primary diagnosis of substance abuse. 

Although it’s difficult to say which clients came in for services in January as a direct result of the advertisement, Phoenix House had seven clients affirm active military, National Guard or veterans status and another 43 state "unknown." Trapassi says “unknown is frequently used as a way of avoiding disciplinary or other action taken against them.”  The 50 individuals who received an assessment and went on to receive treatment at one of Phoenix House’s Rhode Island locations, entered through the outpatient (4), residential (3), and detoxification (43) programs. 


Veterans programs at Phoenix House

Starting about three years ago, Phoenix House senior management began to feel that they really ought to develop some specialized programs for veterans above and beyond what they currently were doing for the veterans that happened to be in their programs, according to Amy Singer, Senior Vice President/Director, Public Private Partnerships and Business Development.  At that time, Phoenix House developed a program in Brentwood, Long Island and then replicated that program in New York City.  Offered at these two locations is a continuum of care that allows veterans to go into a residential program and follow that up with outpatient services as they transition back to the community. If they need the outpatient services only, they can access those services without coming into the residence. 

When the program started, Singer explains that many of the veterans who were coming in for treatment were older Vietnam veterans, “many who had been in and out of the homeless system for a long time and had sort of cycled through drug courts or veterans courts.”

However, in the past year and a half, she says that Phoenix House has been starting to see younger men (the programs primarily serve men) who are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom have very different needs and challenges.  This change, she believes may be due to the fact that the outreach counselors are fairly young and are meeting and seeing other young individuals and encouraging them to come in for treatment if they need it.

Part 2 of this article