Veterans Empowerment Center earns accreditation - Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VAMC
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Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VAMC

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Veterans Empowerment Center earns accreditation

Veterans Empowerment Staff and Veterans

Philadelphia VA Medical Center staff and Veterans earned three-year accreditation for their Veterans Empowerment Center.

By Gail Ziegler
Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It comes as no surprise to staff and Veterans at the Veterans Empowerment Center that they recently received full accreditation.

The Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) recently evaluated the VEC and green-lighted a three-year accreditation, the highest rating possible, signaling the center as a gold-standard for behavioral health and community integration programs. 

The Veterans Empowerment Center had more than 2,000 standards to meet and was evaluated over a two-day period in October.  

The Veterans Empowerment Center, or “VEC” as it is known to staff and Veterans, is a Psycho-social Rehabilitation and Recovery Center. It began offering a collection of services in 2008, based upon recovery values. Traditional behavioral health focuses on a patient being symptom free, and the Veterans Empowerment Center emphasizes quality of life and getting beyond stable for Veterans with serious mental illnesses.  

The center’s leader says the goal is to provide opportunities for Veterans to have the lives they want in their own communities.

“The VEC complements other mental health services”, said Lori Breen, LCSW.  “We help Veterans identify their strengths, address barriers and acquire the skills, abilities and resources to achieve what they want.”

One of the cornerstones of the Veterans Empowerment Center is hope – hope is the fuel that powers the recovery of Veterans and helps them reach their goals.

"Hope is why we are here,” Ms. Breen added.  “We have hope for people’s futures."

The center is an extensive collection of resources for Veterans living with serious mental illnesses including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe post-traumatic stress disorder. It is a complement to the many other behavioral health services available at the Philadelphia VA.

The multi-disciplinary team focuses on individuals' goals, as defined by the Veteran, and provides an array of resources including individual support, Family Psycho-Education, Social Skills Training, Wellness and Recovery Action Planning, Illness Management and Recovery, peer support and wellness coaching. Goals range from attending school, going fishing, or obtaining full-time work.

"We don't tell them what their goals are, we help guide them to achieve them," said James Mock, a mental health specialist assigned to the center.

The cornerstones of the Veterans Empowerment Center are hope and partnership. Hope is the fuel that powers the recovery of Veterans and helps them reach their goals.

Dr. John Bolger, psychologist at VEC, describes the role of partnership. “We are collaborating with Veterans on their recovery journey, I am a supporter.”

Partnership, the other key component of VEC, is evident in every area including the name. Veterans in Philadelphia chose the name Veterans Empowerment Center. There is also a 7-member leadership team, comprised of patients, that meets weekly to discuss and guide the program. 

Peer counselors, two full-time staff members, provide vital peer support to Veterans. Ms. Breen explained their role.

"Peer counselors have lived experience of mental illness and have come far in their recovery journey." They share their experiences and inspire other Veterans during group sessions, skills training and individual planning.

Ms. Breen said, "Veterans want to talk with someone who has walked in their shoes."  

Rhonda Dennis has been with VEC for three years as a peer counselor.

“As I introduce myself (as a peer counselor) you can literally see the physical anxiety roll from the Veteran’s shoulders, opening a pathway of communication.” Ms. Dennis said. “He or she reaches further to be the individual they have dreamed of returning to.”

Ms. Dennis explains her role as someone who can relate personal experiences, and walk along side of the Veteran as he or she is on their journey to recovery.

The multi-disciplinary team focuses on individuals' goals, as defined by the Veteran, and provides an array of resources for a Veteran to reach that goal including individual support, family psycho-education, social skills training, peer support, wellness and recovery planning, illness management and recovery, and wellness coaching.

Most mental health resources focus on treatment and symptoms, but the VEC focuses on providing the Veteran with the tools to thrive. Whether their goal is to attend college, go fishing, get a date, or improve their communication skills and relationships, VEC provides tools and opportunities for success. While the process is self-driven and self-defined, the staff provides education, clinical expertise, and coaching for optimum results. 


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