Rep. Peter King with PTSD suffererCongressman Peter King (R-Seaford) said he’s old enough to remember when debilitating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) wasn’t something that was acknowledged.

“Finally it’s come out of the shadows and veterans are not ashamed to admit they have PTSD,” King said. “It’s the same as any other wound of war, and it’s a wound that we as a nation have an obligation to do all that we can to treat.”

And while treatment options have come along way, there had been a major gap.

“There was a breach between whatever treatment was being provided to veterans, and then their families; their families were on the outside looking in,” King said. “From what I’ve read and learned, you cannot cope with PTSD unless the ones you love are along with you for the ride.

“This has been addressed by Northwell Health and the VA.”

The efforts by Northwell and the Northport VA Medical Center, which started in 2012 with the jointly operated Unified Behavioral Health Center for Military Veterans and Their Families (UBHC), was just given a major boost in the form of some positive findings in a recently released, 84-page RAND Corporation report on the program.

According to the RAND Corporation, a public-interest research group and think tank, at least 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD and/or depression, a number counselors claim is much higher when combined with traumatic brain injury.

The report notes that “while veterans are eligible for VA services, most of their families are not eligible, leading different members of families to seek care in different settings, with no way to exchange information and coordinate care between VA providers and family members’s providers.”

In studying the program in Bay Shore, RAND found UBHC patients “reported being happy with the services they received, and their symptoms and functioning improved significantly over time,” while also finding the program was able to reach a significant number of veterans and their families.

The report also found there could be obstacles in sustaining and replicating this private-public model — the only one of its kind in the U.S.

For one, funding will be an issue, RAND predicts, as could obtaining buy-in from the local VA hospitals, indicating there were administrators within the Northport VA who were skeptical of the program. The report also mentions construction and infrastructure costs, as well as logistical barriers between the entities, such as not being able to send secure emails containing patient information.

But overall, the RAND Corporation found the program “has succeeded in implementing a promising public-private partnership model for providing behavioral health care for veterans and their families in the same facility.”

One of those veterans, William Beckenhaupt, 32, of East Moriches, had served in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division in 2007 to 2008, during the surge.

He began receiving  treatment in Bay Shore with is wife, Gayle, earlier this year.

He joined VA and Northwell Health officials, as well as the elected leaders at a special event Friday in Bay Shore announcing the RAND Corporation’s positive findings.

“It’s really helpful,” he told Congresswoman Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City). “As far as my wife is concerned, it’s helped her understand more about where I’m coming from sometimes, and it’s made us more empathetic toward each other, and understand each other’s positions better within the family dynamic.”

“Over there, you would cut off your left hand if it helps the guy next to you, ” he later added. “So a lot of this is being able to apply that same mentality to, say, our spouses, who are now the ones in the trenches with us.”

He told Rice that he hoped sharing his experience will help others.

“This is helping me, so it’s going to help other people,” he said

Rice called the UBHC program a model partnership that should be extended to veterans and their families across the U.S.

“This is an outside, objective review … saying this works,” Rice said. “What I vow to do is take that RAND report back to Washington, after Election Day, and say, ‘Here is Exhibit A as to what we should be doing around the country.’

“I’ll be proud to say the first one was done here.”

The Unified Behavioral Health Center for Military Veterans and their Families is located at 132 East Main Street in Bay Shore. Call 631-647-2530 to make an appointment.

Top Photo: (L-R) U.S. Army veteran William Beckenhaupt, Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, Juan Serrano, director, Military Veterans and Liason Services for Northwell Health, and Congressman Peter King talk about Beckenhaupt’s experiences in Iraq as well as his recent treatment in Bay Shore.

Rep. Kathleen Rice

Congresswoman Kathleen Rice behind the UBHC center Friday in Bay Shore. (Credit: Michael White)