Just hours after the deadly Las Vegas shooting, VA deployed teams of mental health professionals, counselors, social workers and other crisis and trauma-trained experts into the community to help those in need. While VA’s Vet Centers and its mobile teams usually serve combat Veterans and family members, Mobile Vet Centers also deploy to provide community support in emergency situations.
“There is a tremendous amount of shock that everyone is experiencing,” said Dr. Ramu Komanduri, chief of staff for the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System and a board-certified psychiatrist. “Our goal is to be supportive, offer a presence, try to help people while they search for answers, and, as time passes in the days ahead, help them with longer term symptoms and problems associated with such a horrific trauma.”
VA’s Southern Nevada Healthcare System and Las Vegas and Henderson Vet Centers deployed a team to a family reunification center at the Las Vegas Convention Center to assist those who may be searching for friends or family. And VA’s presence in Las Vegas quickly grew by the afternoon of Oct. 2 as three Mobile Vet Centers from Southern California arrived to help maintain around-the-clock services. Local VA staff and Vet Centers provided on-site counseling services at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center as well as University Medical Center – the two most-impacted medical facilities.
“The Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center team are grateful and appreciative for the assistance we received from the Vet Centers and the VA medical center mental health staff,” said Jeffrey Murawsky, chief medical officer. “The staff of the VA should be proud of the service they provided and the impact they’ve made here in. Las Vegas.”
Veronica Duncan, a Vet Center clinical social worker from Arizona, discusses support needs with Felix Acevedo, emergency manager for the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas Oct. 4, 2017.
Three Mobile Vet Centers and 10 staff members from outside the area are augmenting VA support in Las Vegas and providing on-site individual and family counseling and assisting with resource referrals.
“Many of our Vet Center staff deployed within in an hour’s notice to come to Vegas from nearby states and are Veterans who have combat service and previous deployment experience,” said Kelly Edwards-Barron. “What makes us unique is that during a crisis such as this incident or the recent hurricanes that affected Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, we are able to deploy our Mobile Vet Centers and counseling assets anywhere needed and provide these services to all within the affected communities.”
Victims and their families are not the only ones that VA mental health professionals are concerned about. Following other similar violent trauma incidents, first responders were often the most affected by what they witnessed. This can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms similar to those experienced by Veterans in combat. The VA brings a skilled perspective on emotional recovery from violent trauma.
“VA has decades of experience taking care of Veterans who have been in combat and those who have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Komanduri. “As such, we can inform and educate the community in recognizing and treating the symptoms of PTSD so those in need receive care faster.”
Komanduri emphasized that it’s important for those affected to seek out professional help from a doctor or counselor, especially if any symptoms cause great distress and disrupt an individual’s work or home life.
“We know several Veterans and military members were in attendance as either spectators or first responders,” Komanduri said. “We also know many were visiting from out of town. Whether it’s here in Southern Nevada or another location where individuals travelled from, the VA has services available. Locally and nationally, we offer access to same-day mental health services for Veterans with urgent needs either in person or via telehealth at our sites of care. Our Emergency department is also open 24/7 and we also have Vets Centers in Las Vegas, Henderson and several others located throughout the nation that can provide individual counseling to Veterans, active-duty military, Guardsmen and Reservists and their families.”
For a list of VA locations and support services available, visit www.va.gov. Additionally, for Veterans who are not near services and need immediate assistance, the Veterans Crisis Line is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 (option 1) or via online chat at www.veteranscrisisline.net.
About the authors: John Archiquette and Charles Ramey are public affairs specialists for the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System.