“Connections” is the word that Rick Hamp uses when talking about help and resources in handling the mental health of veterans and service men and women.
Hamp, special assistant to the deputy adjutant general at the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) and the state lead for the Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families, said his primary function is to increase awareness of mental health services, reduce the stigma and share resources. He said he creates teams and executes the vision provided to the department by the governor as well as making connections and making sure people know they’re not alone.
In September, the Governor’s Challenge launched a campaign to encourage people to send a caring message to veterans they know, possibly saving a life. The Governor’s Challenge is led by the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA).
“That simple connection makes a difference,” said Hamp, who served 32 years in the United States Army. “It’s amazing how sending a message, whether it’s a postcard, email, or a phone call, shows them they’re not alone. The best offensive measure we have against suicidal ideations is to provide hope to somebody. Connections are the first step in providing hope.”
As part of the campaign, the Governor’s Challenge team is sending letters and emails specifically to veteran advocates and health care providers throughout Pennsylvania, encouraging them to reach out to veterans they serve. Military veterans are 1.5 times more likely to die by suicide than Americans who never served in the military. For female veterans, the risk factor is 2.2 times more likely, according to the DMVA.
PA VETConnect was also launched as an outreach program 10 years ago as a pathway to a better means of serving Pennsylvania’s more than 700,000 veterans. The objectives of PA VetConnect are simple: determine the needs of veterans and their beneficiaries, find resources that meet those needs, and connect veterans with those resources. DMVA has staff living and working in communities across the commonwealth who are doing just that on a daily basis, according to the DMVA website.
Access to database
Through PA VETConnect, veteran advocates have access to the commonwealth’s premier information and referral database, compiled specifically to improve the lives of service members, veterans, and their families. The free database is populated with valuable information and more than 2,000 resources that will help County Directors of Veterans Affairs and other veteran advocates facilitate delivery of the best possible services to veterans, their families and their beneficiaries.
Resource areas include benefits, employment, financial assistance, mental wellness and substance use, post-traumatic stress, and more, according to the DMVA.
Over the last three years, the DMVA hired 15 people to work as regional program outreach coordinators and veteran service specialists.
Their job is to make connections with veterans on a daily basis in their region and connect and review providers in the area, said Hamp.
“It has been so successful,” said Hamp. “We have thousands upon thousands of connections made. We are seeing a big difference in the lives of the target population we are dealing with, and building strong relationships with the providers. It’s a really heartwarming effort when you think about how this program is evolved in the short time it’s been in place. We are very proud of what we are able to do with PA Vet Connects.”
Hamp said the DMVA is also working on a software application that will launch in 2023 to help veterans make more connections to providers, outreach coordinators, county services and the county directors of veteran affairs in each of the 67 counties. Those resources can be found on the DMVA’s website and the DMVA’s weekly digital publication of the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
Scranton veterans home
Located throughout the state to accommodate veterans from every region, the DMVA’s Veterans Homes provide varying levels of care to meet veterans’ personal health care needs. Those six homes are located in Philadelphia, Lackawanna, Blair, Erie, Chester and Allegheny counties. The Lackawanna County location — Gino J. Merli Veterans Center in Scranton — covers veterans in Snyder, Union, Montour and Northumberland counties.
While those locations are for long-term care and skilled nursing, any mental health or behavioral health needs are referred to the federal VA locations. The DMVA provides transportation if needed, said Hamp.