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Treating Homeless Veterans’ Trauma Starts at the Front Door

Jun 29, 2015 | By Bob Helfant | No Comments

Visit to Israel Inspires New Directions for Veterans’ Trauma-Informed Care

LOS ANGELES, June 29, 2015 – What does post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among homeless veterans in the U.S. have to do with the resilience of the people of Israel? “Everything,” says New Directions for Veterans President and CEO Gregory C. Scott, who has committed to fully integrating a treatment known as trauma-informed care into his veterans-service organization.

Trauma results from an event or a series of events that cause intense physical and psychological stress reactions, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Trauma-informed care trains providers in recognizing the trauma survivor’s vulnerabilities or triggers and how they might affect the way the person accepts and responds to services.

Scott witnessed the potential of organizational trauma-informed care during a recent visit to Israel, where an estimated 9 percent of the population suffers from PTSD, according to the Israeli Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma.

 “How [Israelis] deal with trauma is very different from how we deal with trauma,” Scott said. “We deal with trauma from a one-on-one therapy session model. They deal with trauma from a community perspective. Many in the community are trained on trauma, how to recognize it and how to deal with it when they see it.”

Scott visited Israel as part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’s Leadership Missions, a program aimed at providing an educational opportunity for Los Angeles-area community leaders to learn about the challenges and characteristics that Israel and Los Angeles share. The focus of this year’s visit was trauma response and treatment.

“People in Israel are dealing with what I call perpetual trauma,” Scott said. “In addition to the wars and atrocities they’ve endured throughout history, they continue to live under the threat of war. Their safety is always at stake. At the same time, they are very resilient. Although they’re in a perpetual state of trauma, they have a strong community and a thriving community. They’ve built a culture of trauma-informed care.”

What are the risks of treating traumatized individuals without the compassion, respect and understanding that trauma-informed care emphasizes? “Managing trauma can be seen as a behavioral problem and result in isolation, stigmatization or feelings of shame,” said Stacey Sigman, LCSW, and Clinical Director at NDVets.

“At New Directions, we know and see the prevalence of PTSD, specifically with the homeless veteran population,” Sigman said. “All our staff are trained to recognize trauma, not react to behavior, to see a survivor, not a problem, and to diminish stigma and reduce barriers through acceptance so that recovery can become a possibility for veterans of all generations challenged with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.”

NDVets has a full team of mental health professionals who help participants with issues such as PTSD, military sexual trauma, violent behavior, depression and substance abuse. But a sensitive level of care can’t stop there, Scott said.

“To put it into perspective, a participant at New Directions interacts with a mental health clinician twice a week on average,” Scott explains. “That same veteran can interact with a dozen or more other staff members — front desk, resident monitor, cafeteria, instructor and so forth — every day. Each one of those interactions must be trauma informed.”

To train an organization of more than 100 employees on the philosophy and methodology of trauma-informed care is one thing, but to instill it as culture throughout every program and in every team member is a feat. Scott said the visit to Israel inspired him to meet the challenge.

“I’m laser focused on creating this trauma-informed care environment here at New Directions for Veterans,” Scott said. “If the Israelis can do it as a community, we can do it as an organization.”