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Some Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers are beginning to treat substance use disorders and mental illness together, The Columbus Dispatch reports. Until recently, VA hospitals tended to treat the two problems separately.

According to Gary Stofle, Coordinator of the Columbus, Ohio VA Center’s Addiction Disorders Division, the new approach, called integrated dual disorder treatment, recognizes that substance addiction and serious mental illness need to be treated together. The traditional VA approach has often resulted in treating mental illness while overlooking substance use issues, or treating the problems separately by people who had no communication with each other. This could lead to conflicting treatments, Stofle noted.

The Columbus VA program has a team of seven or eight people, including doctors and specially trained social workers. If a veteran doesn’t come in for an appointment, team members will meet them where they feel comfortable, according to the program’s coordinator, Jimmy Portner. The team meets weekly to talk about veterans’ progress, and there is no time limit on how long a veteran can participate.

If a veteran needs help in other areas, such as housing or legal issues, the team may assist with that as well. Early results of the Columbus program suggest veterans in the program were less frequently hospitalized in 2013, compared with the previous year. When they were hospitalized, they spent fewer days there.

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