A joint public-private health clinic in Bay Shore could teach the nation a lot about helping veterans and their families cope with military-related psychological troubles, according to a study by the RAND Corporation.
The Unified Behavioral Health Center for Military Veterans and Their Families combines psychological clinicians from the Northport Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center and medical giant Northwell Health in side-by-side offices on East Main Street.
Officials at the VA and RAND say the clinic is the only one of its kind in the country.
“We basically concluded this is a viable model,” said Nicole K. Eberhart, the lead author of the RAND analysis. “They pioneered this model. I think they learned a lot. I think other programs can learn from it.”
The arrangement allows nonveteran family members, who are generally barred from being treated at VA medical facilities, to be seen in the same location as the veteran. The centralized services make it easier for health providers to share information on such issues as spousal conflict that could help with treatment.
RAND researchers say the collaboration is beneficial because families struggling with a veteran’s military-related behavioral issues, such as PTSD, often cannot find private-sector clinicians who are as familiar with veterans’ issues as the clinic’s Northwell therapists.
VA staff at the Bay Shore facility have treated 2,285 veterans through 14,700 patient encounters since the clinic opened in late 2012. The Northwell side of the facility has treated 946 veterans and 300 family members.
The RAND report, which was announced at a gathering of elected officials and community members at the clinic last week, said although the collaboration shows great promise, a few challenges remain.
Because Northwell initially used charitable donations to provide some services at no charge, its current financing “is likely not a sustainable funding model,” according to the report, which urged Northwell to continue with a recently implemented billing system.
The report also said future collaborations should develop common email systems, so that clinicians can share patient information over secure networks.
RAND, a California research nonprofit that frequently studies the military, did the study on behalf of the New York State Health Foundation, a private grantmaking group.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said she would urge that the collaborative arrangement be duplicated nationwide.
“Here is ‘Exhibit A’ about what we should be doing across the country,” Rice told the gathering.
An earlier RAND study said roughly one in five of the 2.7 million Americans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffers from psychological troubles that make readjusting to family life difficult.
That was the case for Iraq War veteran William Beckenhaupt, 32, of East Moriches.
Beckenhaupt said the stress of losing close friend Sgt. Norman Tollett of Elyria, Ohio, to sniper fire in 2007 was so alienating that he and his wife were barely speaking before they began going to family counseling at the Bay Shore facility in April.
He said although he got individual therapy at the main VA facility in Northport, having a place where he and his wife felt comfortable working on their marriage problems together provided a breakthrough.
“There was never a question of whether we loved each other, but she didn’t know how to help,” Beckenhaupt said. “She said you need to do something, because this is not working.”