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Friday, July 13, 2012 - Page updated at 09:00 p.m.
Renovated veterans' facility offers intensive PTSD care, tranquillity, trout
By Hal Bernton
Seattle Times staff reporter
After a $7.3 million renovation, a federal Department of Veterans Affairs mental-health facility has reopened at American Lake with programs that offer intensive treatment. The 64-bed residential program, situated on a campus south of Tacoma with a golf course and trout-filled lake, offers help to veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addictions and homelessness. The program also offers an additional 24 beds located in the Tacoma area for veterans who are returning to work.
VA Puget Sound officials offered reporters a tour Thursday of the American Lake facility, which reopened in May. The renovation expanded the number of beds set aside for PTSD patients from 16 to 20. That helps the program care for vets who previously would have been admitted to a Seattle inpatient program for PTSD patients, according to Dr. Richard Pollard, a psychologist who is director of VA Puget Sound's Community and Residential Care Services.
Pollard said that the Seattle inpatient program had an average of eight patients receiving treatment. They received their care in a medical tower where doors were locked. Though many veterans liked the program, they didn't like being locked down, Pollard said.
"We felt that it would be better served for those veterans to have them be housed in a site such as ours, which is a more tranquil site, and then provide enhanced services in a more open environment," said Dr. Joel Mitchell, director of outpatient services at American Lake.
At the American Lake facility, patients have a more homelike environment. Though there is a curfew between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., they can otherwise generally come and go from the facility. PTSD patients who are acutely suicidal or otherwise in need of maximum-security care can still be admitted to the Seattle mental-health inpatient program, Pollard said.
American Lake offers some treatments tailored for victims of sexual trauma. Others offer combat veterans an opportunity to work through traumatic experiences that they have experienced. "If we think of PTSD as kind of like a car, avoidance is the gas in the vehicle," said Mitchell, . "If we can provide a safe place where they can process and make sense of some of these things, then we find that the treatment outcomes are really, really quite positive."
During their leisure time, patients can play golf at the American Lake course. There have been quite a few fish fries with fresh-caught trout.
"I am being discharged tomorrow after five weeks, and I have found that in the last 41 years that I have been dealing (with) PTSD, this is by far the best facility and the best staff that I have ran into," said Johnnie Larmore, a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran from Port Angeles.
The American Lake program is part of a broader VA Puget Sound effort to treat veterans with PTSD. In fiscal year 2011, 4,000 veterans received treatment in PTSD programs, included 500 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or email@example.com
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