MILWAUKEE — Veterans organizations like Dry Hootch have long sought better care in the community for their colleagues seeking behavioral and substance abuse treatment.
Now a community-based nonprofit, Mental Health America of Wisconsin, will start the nation's first peer-run respite home specifically for veterans using a startup grant of $307,000 from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
"The trauma that veterans experience is unique," said Brian Michel, director of prevention services for Mental Health America of Wisconsin. "And also the demographics of the veteran status seem to transcend all other factors. They're a Marine before they're a certain race. Veteran status comes first because that personal identity has been broken down more than somebody who is a civilian and has not been in the military."
The organization is looking for a location in the Milwaukee area that would be available to all veterans in the state free of charge, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.
Stays at the yet-to-be determined location will be limited to one to five nights.
"Just enough to allow people to regroup, get connected with health services or get re-engaged with treatment if they lapsed or have not sought treatment," Michel said.
While there will be no clinical services provided at the respite, the staff will get trained and be paid. The training will include elements of Intentional Peer Support, the Wisconsin and/or National Certified Peer Specialist training, and veteran-specific training for peers to provide PTSD recovery services, Michel said.
One goal of the center is to prevent suicide. According to the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, male veterans are twice as likely as their civilian peers to die by suicide. And suicide deaths among women veterans have increased by 40% over last decade.
While the state has various programs to help veterans with finances, health care and housing, Wisconsin Veterans Affairs Secretary Mary Kolar estimates up to half of the veterans in Wisconsin are not getting access to those services.
"There are programs that WDVA (Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs) has that sometimes we have to say, 'You don't meet this qualification for a WDVA program but we know this organization here that's able to help you.' We truly believe — and have documentation — that we've prevented suicides because we get people the help they need," Kolar told WPR's "The Morning Show."
Kolar also spoke about ending monetary transfers from the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King. In 2016, concern surfaced over money taken from the profitable veterans' home which was then put into the Veterans Trust Fund to cover losses.
In his budget proposal, Gov. Tony Evers wants to continue funding some veterans programs with revenue from veterans homes. But he is also asking lawmakers to approve $15.8 million in general purpose revenue in the second year of the biennium while the department works toward a long-term solution.