Veteran Healthcare on the Streets

By Debbie Gregory.

Homeless veterans are now receiving healthcare assistance by VA doctors. The Veterans Administration has a new program. VA doctors are taking it to the streets.

Many homeless veterans are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other ailments. Veterans are 50% more likely to become homeless than the average American. Homeless veterans account for nearly 20% of the homeless population living on the streets and in shelters in Los Angeles.  The Veterans Administration states that they are making slow but measurable progress toward eliminating homelessness among veterans by 2014.

A new VA program is sending teams of healthcare providers to the streets to provide homeless veterans with the same healthcare they would receive at a VA medical center. The idea is to help veterans overcome barriers to obtaining good healthcare services.

Homeless Patient Aligned Care Team (HPACT), which focuses on the primary healthcare needs of homeless Veterans in coordination with housing programs.  This program is up and running in over thirty sites with another eight sites in the stages of development  and  planning.  The HPACT is built at the intersection between two successful healthcare models, the Healthcare for the Homeless Primary Care Clinics and the Patient-Centered Medical Home.

Often both the physical and mental illnesses of Veterans are not being treated. Sometimes a Veteran might  need help to register for supplemental programs such as food stamps.  The long-term goal is to create a VA healthcare team with one primary care provider and one mental health provider to provide services for Veterans who are homeless.

The VA’s new Homeless Patient Aligned Care Teams (HPACT) are modeled after both of these successful interventions, and tailored to the needs of homeless Veterans.  This is accomplished by creating a hub in order for homeless Veterans to access housing and stabilization services that have recently been developed and expanded across the VA system.  In addition, the HPACT program has a robust evaluation component so that the intervention can be assessed for quality and cost-effectiveness. It is expected that the evaluation will show that participating Veterans will have a marked decrease in utilization of expensive healthcare crisis services such as emergency department visits and inpatient admissions that are avoidable.

Dr. Thomas O’Toole is the Medical Director of the Providence clinic as well as the Medical Director of the national HPACT program. Dr.  O’Toole believes that the intersection of chronic pain and addiction can often be an underlying issue that can lead to failure of permanent supportive housing for Veterans.

This new program has doctors out in the streets to evaluate and provide healthcare for homeless veterans. The healthcare delivery system is taking another innovative step forward to be Veteran-centric in its service model. Over the next two years, this sensible, cost-effective system of care (HPACT) promises to significantly contributing toward achieving the goal of ending homelessness among Veterans by 2015.

Military Connection is excited about this program because it will provide much needed healthcare for Veterans who are not able to come to the VA.   Physicians, nurses, allied health professionals and social workers will be in the trenches to bring healthcare services to our homeless Veterans.