Atlanta VA Health Care System
Mental Health care high priority at Atlanta VAMC
Dr. Aisha Baker, staff psychologist with the Atlanta VA Medical Center, sits in her office at the Oakwood VA Clinic reflecting on her first few days as a Primary Care Mental Health Integration psychologist. The position was created at the Oakwood Clinic to align Mental Health care with Primary care; PCMHI improves access to mental healthcare and educates, normalizes, and reduces the stigma associated with Veterans seeking Mental Health.
“It was difficult you know; here we have, for the very first time, mental healthcare associated with primary care at this clinic,” says Baker. “Creating a position at an outlying clinic where a Veteran can walk in and receive same day mental health care was new and we had to figure out the best way to serve the Veteran…together.”
That was two and a half years ago and Baker says the addition of a PCMHI psychologist has proved beneficial in providing Veterans a one-stop-shop for primary care services at outlying clinics and faster access to mental health services.
“In the beginning there was a bit of a learning curve,” added Baker, “but now I’m often called upon and extensively used which benefits everyone involved.”
A native of Jackson, Mississippi, Baker knows a thing or two about being around Veterans. Her dad, an Army Veteran, told her as a young child what it was like to serve his country.
“My dad actually served in the Army and his experience is one of the things that drew me to working with and for Veterans,” said Baker. “I just felt that these men and women have served our country and I wanted to do my part by serving them.”
Today, Baker is usually the first step for Veterans seeking mental health care at her clinic.
“Whether the Veteran has worked with Mental Health in the past or not, I’m normally the first person they meet,” said Baker. “My job is to identify their concerns and find out what they need in terms of treatment even if the Veteran has never enrolled in VA care. If they walk in and say ‘hey, I need to see someone right now from Mental Health,’ we work with eligibility to get the Veteran in our system so that I’m able to see them that day.”
Veterans meet with PCMHI psychologists for an initial screening and if needed, are connected with mental health providers within days of seeing a PCMHI. Veterans who do not require ongoing mental health care can receive short-term therapy; up to six sessions. The short-term therapy also gives providers an opportunity to identify any additional VA services the Veteran may need.
With the Atlanta VA operating one of the largest VA Mental Health care programs in the nation, Baker says she is grateful that she gets to meet the patients where they are.
“The distance from a Veteran’s home to our clinic can sometimes be a barrier to care, so to combat that we conduct sessions over the phone and even use Telemental Health services to virtually connect patients here in Oakwood, with mental health psychiatrists at the main hospital in Decatur, when necessary” said Baker. “This has been instrumental is improving our patients’ overall well-being and ensuring they are satisfied with their care.”
The Atlanta VAMC provides an array of readily available mental health services ranging from primary care clinic based mental health treatment to inpatient care, a psychiatric ER, and specialized outpatient mental health treatment programs such as the Trauma Recovery Program.
Veterans may also contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to connect with mental health professionals.
For more information on the Atlanta VAMC Mental Health services call (404) 321-6111 ext. 7620.