New mental health facility to serve vets

The Veterans Administration Hospital in the Peninsula is getting a brand new mental health building.

August 12, 2010 7:10:58 PM PDT
A new mental health facility is under construction at the VA Hospital in Palo Alto. It is expected to serve a new generation of veterans who are coping with the stress of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Seismic safety is one of the major reasons why $54 million is being spent to build this new mental health facility.

However, it's also going to be addressing a growing need -- helping military personnel cope with mental health issues after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, was on hand for the topping off ceremony with construction crews setting the last beam in place.

It has been difficult for many in the military to recognize or to acknowledge the need for help.

"That stigma seems to be lessening. We still have more to do, but a place like this is going to be so reassuring to people who come home and look like they're just fine but are struggling with the post-traumatic injury," she said.

The new facility will provide mostly private rooms, all on one floor and that will give patients more privacy as well as easier access to outdoor courtyards.

VA hospital facilities in the Bay Area provide a comprehensive mental health program on an out-patient and in-patient basis.

The patients are skewing younger, with vets from Iraq and Afghanistan now joining those from the Vietnam era for mental health care.

"With the new mix of the younger patients coming in, and with more women as well, they're coming in, we found that they actually work together and help each other. We have not found that there are problems with that," Dr. Tina Lee from Veteran's Hospital said.

With the suicide rate among military personnel running higher than the rate for civilians, the defense department is working on prevention measures as well, urging commanders to look for potential signs of stress.

"It's always better if you can prevent, and I think if that's feasible, so I would agree with that, but you do what you can," Lee said.

The need for returning vets is great. This facility won't be ready for another couple of years, but will be welcomed when it comes online.


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