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Sun, Feb. 23

Editorial: New facility a positive step in helping veterans

Rarely does the sight of shovels turning dirt mean so much.

On Thursday we witnessed the groundbreaking of a new outpatient mental health services building at the Northern Arizona VA Medical Center in Prescott. The two-story, 18,000-square-foot facility will add to the important work already done at the VA on Highway 89 North.

Mental health treatment among our veterans is no small task.

Mental illnesses can range from depression and anxiety to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and even psychotic disorders. Other veterans of combat face readjustment issues. Bereavement counseling is another need.

The numbers are sadly widespread.

The Capstone Report, a study by nonprofit groups evaluating Veterans Health Administration Mental Health Programs in 2011 found:

"The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan may add to the numbers of veterans facing mental health challenges. According to one recent study, an estimated 18.5 percent of veterans returned from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom met criteria for probable posttraumatic stress disorder or depression. More broadly, 18.5 to 42.5 percent of recently returned service members and veterans have been found to have a mental disorder."

The study further noted that the prevalence of PTSD is also high among veterans of earlier conflicts. As an alarming example, "the estimated lifetime prevalence of PTSD among male Vietnam veterans is 30.9 percent."

Staggering, to say the least. The full cost of sending U.S. soldiers into harm's way goes well beyond the battlefield, and scrutinizing the reasons we send our men and women in uniform into questionable war theaters is a critical topic for another time.

A new treatment center is the achievement today, and on Prescott's historic Fort Whipple site. The project is expected to take between 14 and 20 months, and is slated for completion on June 1, 2015.

"There's an awful lot of head injuries coming back, especially from the younger vets, and I think we will be in a better position to evaluate that,"

Service Line Manager Dr. Jerry Easterday said. "We are also looking to expand substance abuse services as well."

All VA services, nationally and locally, have made improvement of mental healthcare for veterans an institutional priority.

We salute the veterans and those caring for them.

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