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Earlier this month I had an amazing opportunity to spend the day with nine wounded war heroes and their families at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC.  The resiliency that these veterans displayed was remarkable as they talked about their injuries and their progress towards recovery – even as they adjust to lives with significant disabilities and hardship.

DPH Commissioner Bartlett with veterans recovering from battle injuries at Walter Reed hospital.

DPH Commissioner Bartlett with veterans recovering from battle injuries at Walter Reed Hospital.

While one of my main priorities at DPH has always been to provide meaningful outreach and support to service members, veterans, and their families, what I saw that day only served to underscore for me how important it is that we do all that we can to assist these heroes and their loved ones. Today I’d like to share the latest news from the Department on the status of those efforts.

As part of my commitment to provide quality services and care to veterans in the Commonwealth, I am pleased to announce that the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (BSAS) has named Ben Cluff as Veterans’ Services Coordinator – a position which is focused on supporting veterans who are dealing with substance abuse disorders.

Ben has been working in the field of substance abuse treatment since 1981, and has been with DPH since 1996 when he joined BSAS as the Assistant Regional Manager for the Western Region. What’s more, Ben served four years in the United States Coast Guard during the Vietnam era as a crewmember on two U. S. Coast Guard cutters.

The responsibilities of Ben’s position include forming and maintaining collaborative relationships with federal, state, and local veterans’ resources; promoting appropriate substance abuse services for this population; providing resources, consultation, and technical assistance to providers and agencies who deliver substance abuse prevention, intervention, and treatment services; and developing policies and procedures that will maximize the benefit of substance abuse programming for veterans and their families.

In other areas, the Department continues to prioritize veteran’s services in the Commonwealth with a number of ongoing initiatives which you may remember from my blog post in November honoring Veteran’s Day. Along with the Department of Veteran Services and the Department of Mental Health, DPH participated in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Policy Academy to develop an inter-agency plan for addressing the behavioral health needs of service members, veterans, and their families. The basic goals of the Academy are to consolidate data sources to learn more about this population, conduct a gaps analysis and develop a comprehensive list of services available; and integrate knowledge of military culture and culturally sensitive approaches to working with service members, veterans, and their families across all state agencies.

DPH, through the Division of Violence and Injury Prevention, funds the Statewide Advocacy for Veterans’ Empowerment (SAVE) Team within the Department of Veterans’ Services. The SAVE program advocates for veterans, regardless of the branch in which they served, who are not able to obtain the benefits they have earned due to institutional or personal barriers. The program strives to prevent suicide and mental health distress through the identification of issues facing veterans when they return from service and proactively providing them with access to benefits and services that may address these issues and result in positive transitions back to civilian life.

In addition to the programmatic work for the SAVE team, DPH is also partnering with the Department of Veterans’ Services, the Department of Mental Health, UMass Medical School and Riverside Community Care to address a recent cluster of suicides among members of the Massachusetts National Guard. Under the leadership of Health and Human Services Secretary Polanowicz, both DPH and DMH have pledged resources and support to assist the Massachusetts National Guard in their response.

Finally, the Department is also working closely with several partners to provide coordinated community-based services for veterans who find themselves in specialty court proceedings. With support from a SAMHSA grant, DPH will collaborate with the Massachusetts Trial Court, DMH, University of Massachusetts Medical School, and the Gavin Foundation to enhance the substance use and mental health treatment services being provided in two existing specialty courts, by embedding an evidence-based wraparound service model called Maintaining Independence and Sobriety Through Systems Integration, Outreach and Networking (MISSION). MISSION systematically integrates case management, co-occurring disorders treatment, peer support, vocational supports, and trauma informed care in one coordinated delivery approach. The goal of the project is to reduce relapse and recidivism by facilitating care between the courts and community providers to address the unmet treatment needs which often prevents compliance with court treatment plans.

Through our ongoing partnership with the Department of Veterans’ Services Secretary Coleman Nee and the entire DVS team, we remain committed to our goal of supporting veterans and their families. On behalf of both our agencies, we thank all of our service members – both active and veteran – for their service.

Written By:

Commissioner of the Department of Public Health

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