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James A. Haley VA Medical Center opens new mental health clinic

TAMPA — A new clinic will serve veterans with mental health issues at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday, Dr. Edward Cutolo Jr., Haley's chief of staff, said the clinic is the result of the VA's recognition in recent years of mental health as a national priority.

"I can tell you the dividends are real and significant," he said. "People are integrating into society and living productive lives."

The clinic, at 10770 N 46th St., Building E, is designed for privacy with soundproof rooms with windows in offices and chairs that rock and glide in group rooms. The goal is less hustle, more comfort, more calm.

Haley also added 72 new staffers to the mental health team, Cutolo said.

The clinic is one of many projects under way to better serve veterans at Haley, one of the busiest veterans hospitals in the nation. Other projects include a new primary care annex with a women's center and a polytrauma unit.

The 22,300-square-foot mental health clinic cost $1.2 million to renovate and will be leased at $575,000 annually for 10 years. It will serve eligible veterans in four counties.

Ronald Gironda, chief of psychology, led visitors through halls painted in earth tones with pictures of nature scenes. Gironda, who helped design the new building, pointed out offices dedicated to treating PTSD and group therapy rooms and a shower. The clinic serves homeless veterans who come to them from the streets.

"An often forgotten cost of war is the invisible emotional wounds," Gironda said. Repeated deployments to combat zones can cause problems, he said, "every bit as real."

Recent research into mental health issues revealed 67 percent of veterans have at least one mental health disorder, Gironda said.

The most frequent diagnoses: post traumatic stress disorder, followed by depression, pain disorders and alcohol and drug use. For those with more than one disorder, Gironda said, treatment is exponentially harder.

The staff at the clinic will help veterans manage anger and suicidal thoughts, job frustrations, geriatric issues and military sexual trauma, Gironda said.

The clinic also oversees a program that goes into homes and a new peer group pairing veterans who have overcome mental health problems with those still working to do so.

Mental health services were once offered from a modular building on the main campus, before moving in 2005 to a larger space across from University Mall.

In 2006, when Dr. Glenn Catalano was appointed chief of mental health and behavior sciences, the clinic employed 11 psychiatrists and about 20 psychologists.

Today, according to Catalano, 50 psychiatrists and 95 psychologists work through the program with veterans.

Dave Williams, 66, is one of them.

Williams, a Vietnam veteran who served stateside, now lives in Clearwater and comes for group therapy.

"It's giving me a new outlook and attitude," he said. "It's giving me a direction."

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3431.

James A. Haley VA Medical Center opens new mental health clinic 07/11/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 2:15pm]
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