DANVILLE — The Veteran Affairs Illiana Healthcare System in Danville has already filled three of 39 new positions at the facility in Danville, according to VA officials.
Doug Shouse with the VAIHS at 1900 E. Main St. in Danville said the funding has already been distributed to the local facility, and officials are actively recruiting for the 39 mental health positions, 37 of which will be clinicians, including psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers. The other two positions, Shouse said, will be administrators to help oversee the personnel expansion.
The local hiring is part of a nationwide boost in mental health care for veterans.
Eric K. Shinseki, secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, recently announced the department would add about 1,600 mental health clinicians as well as nearly 300 support staff. Nationwide, the VA has an existing workforce of 20,696 mental health staff that includes nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers.
Currently, 132 mental health clinicians and support staff work throughout the local VA's system, which includes the campus in Danville and clinics throughout the system that extends to west central Illinois, west central Indiana, north to Kankakee and south to Mattoon and Springfield, according to Shouse.
The VA anticipates the majority of mental health clinicians and support staff will be hired locally within about six months and the most hard-to-fill positions by mid-2013.
Nationwide, VA provided specialty mental health services to 1.3 million veterans and has increased the mental health care budget by 39 percent. Since 2007, VA has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of veterans receiving mental health services and a 41 percent increase in mental health staff.
Shouse said the Illiana system has about 145,000 veterans in its service area, and last year, served about 33,500. Of those, 2,600 were veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan, and in the last four years, the facility has seen a significant increase in veterans who have served in those two countries. And of the 33,500 served systemwide, 8,500 to 8,700 received mental health services, he said.
According to Shouse, some of the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have had three to four deployments, sometimes as many as five, and are coming home, trying to adjust to life and don't have a job but have family issues or so much stress and strain that they need the assistance.
Nationwide and locally, the new clinicians will join a team that is already treating veterans through individual care, readjustment counseling and with immediate crisis services. The additional staff will also provide opportunities to expand into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder research and explore alternative therapies.