Crisis care helping vets address mental health

Former staff sergeant Joe Fay loved his job as an Air Force radar technician. However, his military career ended with a medical discharge following two seizures.

"[I] spent 12 years doing something I love and I was lost. I did not know what to do. I had no desire to look for a job. I started to isolate," he says.

He moved from place to place until his money ran low and began drinking alcohol to cope. Then he had four more seizures.

“When I woke up the doctors told me that I should be dead,” he recalls.

His organs shut down, his heart stopped. After weeks in the hospital, he became dependent on his family.

"And when I got out I was wheelchair bound because I lost 40 pounds and lost all of my muscle so I was already skinny as it is and I was down to 116 pounds so I couldn't walk," he recalls.

Hopeless and desperate he attempted suicide by overdosing on his seizure meds not once, not twice but three times.

"Part of it is impulsivity, but I did plan one, and I thought, 'a permanent solution to a temporary problem.'"

Psychiatrist Dr. Alfonso Carreno says Joe's story is not unique.

"They feel they're a burden and they're not making a difference. They start becoming fearless of death and thinking that death may be an option," he explains.

Turning fearlessness into hope involves comprehensive in and outpatient mental health services.

"There are a lot of psychosocial interventions and psychological interventions that are evidence-based that really are geared to prevent suicide: to address impulsivity, to enhance coping skills, to really engage resources," he says.

Yet only 6 out of 20 vets that commit suicide daily, on average, are engaging services thru the V.A. Only half of those six are getting comprehensive care.

In June 2017, the V.A. began offering up to 90 days of care for vets in crisis including those with "other than honorable discharges."

"We have to do something and what we can do immediately is address the needs, the urgent needs of veterans with mental health conditions irrespective of whether they're enrolled in VA or not," Dr. Carreno hopes the change will encourage more struggling vets to comes forward.

Dr. Carreno's team is also asking community member for help, "We can't do it on our own. Really teaching community and others to listen, to validate, to be empathic and to say, I'm here if you need to, if you need to call me."

Joe says there are still barriers, "There's a stigma, but that’s one of the classes that they teach to overcome that. People think we're crazy."

He is working with a medical, mental health and physical therapy team helping him recover and rejoin society, "We have music therapy, we have cooking classes, we go bowling."

An approach offering hope.

"I don't think I'd be alive if it wasn’t for the programs... I'd say, don't be afraid to ask for help, it’s out there, take it and no one is going to judge you."