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VA approves access to local mental health center

Just before separating from the armed forces, servicemembers' most common medical diagnosis was mental health disorders, a new study has found. Mental disorders, almost never diagnosed at the beginning of military service, became the top diagnostic category at the end. (U.S. Air Force)

Area residents who’ve gone that extra mile by serving in the U.S. military now have less traveling to do when in need of psychiatry services. A local mental health center recently was approved as a Veterans Administration Community Care provider.

The approval allows Blue Earth County Mental Health Center, 410 S. Fifth St., to bill the VA directly for veterans’ ongoing mental health services.

Any veteran enrolled in VA health care may now request to be seen by clinicians at the county government center on Fifth Street.

“It’s a big boost for veterans that also alleviates a financial burden,” said Michael McLaughlin, Blue Earth County’s veteran services officer.

McLaughlin’s office is assisting veterans with requests to be seen in person or via tele-health services for help with diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses. Prior to this approval, veterans enrolled in the VA’s system had limited local access to such services.

“Now, they just have to go two flights upstairs from our office,” McLaughlin said.

“The biggest thing is that this affects the cost of care and time spent away (from home) while traveling to receive care,” McLaughlin said.

Many veterans had been traveling to the VA in the Twin Cities for psychiatry services or paying out-of-pocket to providers not approved for reimbursement by the VA.

“Some patients have already begun to access the center’s services,” said Clinic Coordinator Natalia Dann.

Besides in-person appointments, veterans can opt for tele-health services. That can be helpful in situations where “wait time” is an issue, Dann said.

Since a 2020 agreement between Mayo Clinic Health System and the VA, many area military veterans have been eligible to receive medical care for their physical health needs at local MCHS locations. This expanded access was a result of Mayo Clinic’s participation in the Department of Veterans Affairs Community Care Network.

Dann said Human Services Mental Health Center’s application for VA approval came from its mission to serve as a safety net for veterans.

“We want to make care more accessible and that vets out there get help … We knew quite a few were suffering.”

The center’s psychiatric service area includes the counties of Blue Earth, Brown, Faribault-Martin, Freeborn, Le Sueur, Nicollet, Rice, Sibley and Watonwan. These counties comprise the South Central Community Based Initiative region.

Blue Earth County Mental Health Center features a 15-member multidisciplinary team that includes psychiatric providers, therapists, nurses and other specialized team members. The center serves about 1,500 patients each year with prevention, diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses.

The psychiatric services are provided by a medical doctor or advanced practice nurse. Patients may receive mental health evaluations, prescriptions of psychiatric medications, along with monitoring of an individual’s response to medications, and urgent care services to address imminent mental health needs.

McLaughlin said mental health referrals are one of the most common for the Blue Earth County’s Veteran Services Office.

In addition to the county offering psychiatry care as a VA community care provider, McLaughlin’s office had identified a need for counseling and readjustment therapy in the community. He said his office partnered with the Vet Center in St. Paul to get a trained counselor at his office every Tuesday. The counselor is open for one-hour therapy sessions.

“We have seen a high utilization of this service since it started last May, not only for those in the veteran community but also by those who are still serving in the National Guard or Reserves,” McLaughlin said.

For more information about mental health services, veterans may contact McLaughlin’s office at 304-4246 or visit:


(c) 2022 The Free Press

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