The Veterans Mental Health Primary Care Training Initiative: Training a Healthcare Workforce to Meet the Mental Health Needs of Returning Veterans

The New York State Psychiatric Association (NYSPA) is taking a lead role in working to meet the mental health needs of veterans returning from combat duty through its Veterans Mental Health Primary Care Training Initiative (VMH-PCTI). The VMH-PCTI, which provides educational programs on mental health issues affecting returning veterans, is supported by a $165,000 grant provided by the New York State Legislature and administered by the New York State Office of Mental Health. The grant is intended to provide training for primary care providers, including physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners. The training focuses on veteran-specific mental health disorders, including combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, substance use disorders and traumatic brain injury.

The primary goal of the grant is to advance the development of a primary healthcare workforce that is well-educated and well-equipped to recognize the unique mental health needs of veterans. Educating this segment of the healthcare workforce is essential as many veterans visit primary care providers when they return home from active duty, often seeing the same physician who treated them before deployment. Primary care providers who complete the training will gain clinical knowledge and skills as well as learn best practices for identifying, treating or referring psychiatric issues that may become apparent during routine primary care visits.

Training programs are planned as “grand rounds” presentations at teaching hospitals, webinars and separate events at other central locations around the state. The training curriculum includes general guidelines for the treatment of PTSD and traumatic brain injury, including psychotherapeutic and pharmacological interventions. In addition, the program offers a primer on military culture and military mental health issues. Other key elements of the curriculum include advice on questions to ask and questions not to ask and the importance of evaluating possible co-occurring psychiatric diagnoses.

In order to ensure that the training program meets its goals, participants will be asked to complete a pre-training survey and a post-training survey to assess their level of knowledge of military culture and veteran-specific mental health conditions both before and after the program. A final evaluation will be sent to program participants six months following the program to assess actual implementation. This three-part survey process will permit NYSPA to measure and track the grant’s potential impact on the care of returning combat veterans with mental health needs.

The inaugural training session was held at the Albany Medical Center, Albany, New York, on November 14, 2014. The program was hosted by the Department of Psychiatry and included health care professionals from the Departments of Emergency Medicine, Internal Medicine and Family Practice. The lecture was presented by Matthew Friedman, MD, PhD, a Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College and a nationally-renowned expert on veterans mental health issues.

The kick-off presentation was attended by several State legislators, including Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy (D-Albany), Assemblyman John McDonald (D-Cohoes), as well as staff from the offices of Assemblyman James Tedisco (R-Glenville) and Senator Kathleen Marchione (R-Halfmoon).

A second training session is scheduled for March 2015 and will be held at Stony Brook University Hospital in Stony Brook, New York. Additional training sessions are being scheduled throughout the state. In addition, there will be a comprehensive web-based version of the training made available in early 2015.

For more information about the Veterans Mental Health Primary Care Training Initiative, please contact the New York State Psychiatric Association at (516) 542-0077 or

Mr. Gallo is the NYSPA Government Relations Advocate. Ms. Fernbach is the NYSPA Deputy Director and Assistant General Counsel.

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