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Bloomington VA Stresses Mental Health Care During Pandemic

VA Outpatient Clinic in Bloomington
Eric Stock
The VA Outpatient Clinic in Bloomington opened in November 2019.

The head of Bloomington's Veterans Affairs clinic says the pandemic has made caring for veterans more challenging and more critical at the same time.

Executive Director of the VA Illians Health Care System, Shawn Bransky, said veterans' mental health and suicide prevention are the VA's top priority.

Shawn Bransky portrait
Credit VA Illiana Health Care System
Executive Director of the VA Illiana Health Care System, Shawn Bransky, said veterans' mental health and suicide prevention are the VA's top priority.

“This is one area that we know more than anything else we have got to provide around-the-clock coverage because these are tough times for all of us,” Bransky said. “These are tough times for our veterans and we are here for our veterans through it all at any time.”

Bransky noted use of the VA video conferencing platform for patient visits has skyrocketed during the pandemic, though he acknowledged not all veterans can or want to use the technology.

“If it doesn’t work for you, we will meet you where you are at and that’s the takeaway because the absolute last thing we want to do is put the veteran in a situation they are not comfortable in, and what that will translate into is the veteran not getting the care they need,” Bransky said.

He urged any veteran struggling with a mental health crisis to call the VA’s veterans crisis hotline at (800) 273-8255.

Bransky said most patient visits can be done virtually, a decision the veteran makes with his or her physician.

The clinic, which opened one year ago this week, has scaled back up to allow 75% of patient visits to be in person.

Bransky said the clinic has enrolled about 2,000 veterans from McLean and surrounding counties in its first year, but has capacity for three times that number.

“There’s no discussion at all about doing anything in regard to closing that clinic,” Bransky said. “That’s our goal--6,000 (enrollees). We want to continue to move in that direction.”

The clinic has added cardiology and renal care at its Bloomington clinic and plans to add foot and lung care.

“We look at the needs of the veterans in that area. We look at what services they are getting in the community, then we bring those services out to the veteran so that we can continue to provide that care within the VA health care system,” Bransky said.

Most of the VA's specialty care for central Illinois is housed at the agency's Danville clinic.

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Eric Stock is a reporter at WGLT.