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Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System

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VA Community Mental Health Summit strengthens partnerships, educates Veteran community

MOBILE, Ala. – On Aug. 8, the Department of Veterans Affairs Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System officials joined with their mental health community partners to find ways to better serve Veterans with mental health issues during the annual VA Community Mental Health Summit.

The event was held at the GulfQuest Museum, with this year’s specific focus on “improving access to mental health care of Veterans and their families.”

More than 110 people attended the event, highlighted by a peer-support presentation from Bob Curry, founder and president of dryhootch of America. Dryhootch’s mission is to provide Veterans with a social gathering place that is free of drugs and alcohol. The beverage of choice at a dryhootch location is coffee.

Curry, a Vietnam Veteran, also gave a historic account of his own life during and after military service, when he battled post-traumatic stress and addiction issues. Curry said he struggled to readjust to civilian life and often turned to alcohol to cope, issues that arose again after the 1990 Gulf War.

Today, dryhootch locations have served approximately 10,000 Veterans a year over the last five years, Curry said during his presentation.

Throughout the Summit’s agenda, GCVHCS representatives gave the audience detailed briefings on a variety of topics, such as suicide prevention, evidence-based treatment, and an update on GCVHCS’s effort in managing Veteran homelessness in the region. There was even a Tai Chi demonstration, which is used to give Veterans an alternative way to manage chronic pain.

In all, the education and networking felt worthwhile for attendees.

“It’s always important to me to support these events, especially because I’m a Veteran myself,” Vanessa Hall, executive director of the Southern Alabama Health Education Center, said, a key sponsor of the annual Summit events when they are held in Mobile. “All the education for the community health care providers is equally as important too, to help them treat and recognize the issues that our Veterans face.”

GCVHCS Mental Health Recovery Coordinator Leigh Ann Johnson, who served as the event emcee and coordinator, felt positive about the event’s outcome.

“The event was well attended this year, and we are very appreciative of AHEC’s and the contributions of our other community partners,” Johnson said. “It’s something we always look forward to doing each year.”