FORT MYERS, Fla. - More veterans than ever are seeking some sort of mental health treatment from the VA. Besides hiring more mental health professionals, the VA is also meeting with community organizations to make sure no one slips through the cracks.
In September, we traveled to St. Petersburg to attend one of the 100 VA Mental Health Summits going on throughout the country. The goals of the summits was to open up communication with community mental health providers to improve the care of local veterans.
One of the speakers at that health care summit was a Fort Myers success story. He proved that through a community agency, a veteran was able to get back on his feet and discover all the opportunities the VA has to offer.
"I had a couple of surgeries when I was in service and I was given some pain medication. I think that's when it first started," described U.S. Army veteran and former Fort Myers resident, Anthony Parker.
"In 15 years, I would say I probably went through seven to eight drug rehabs," he said.
Finally, a friend stepped in and took him to a privately-funded Christian-based rehabilitation facility in Fort Myers.
"Anthony came in like a lot of men and women that come in: totally desperate, last resort type of thing," recalled Pastor Gaspar Anastasi founder of the New Life Dream Center.
Men and women seeking help at the New Life Dream Center spend 18 months healing in a residential program.
Once there, Anthony focused on breaking his addiction and changing his life.
"He became such a role model, that he eventually became a leader on this staff," explained Pastor Gaspar.
When Anthony graduated from the program, he worked at the New Life Dream Center, guiding other men along in their journey which included other veterans like himself.
"I took them to the VA in Fort Myers and it was there that I found out, these are veterans and they're getting benefits. I wonder if there's any benefit that may help me," explained Anthony.
Anthony was able to meet with a social worker at the VA and his path in life opened up even more. Through the VA, Anthony was able to get help going back to school and eventually he got a new job working for the Bay Pines facility in St. Petersburg.
While the VA has now become an integral part of his life, Anthony knows that it was all possible, because of the New Life Dream Center.
"The fact that someone would, I don't want to get emotional-- that someone would-- who knows the state I was in and come along side and understand the emotional state I was in and say I'm going to help you, I mean this is what it's all about," said Anthony.
The VA's outreach program is aimed at familiarizing community organizations with all that the VA has to offer, everything from marriage counseling, to treatment for severe mental illness.
The VA also has a number of programs to help vets get back on their feet. In fact, part of Anthony's job currently is to get veterans full-time employment.
Learn more about the Bay Pines VA system
Learn more about the New Life Dream Center