Grant to Increase Mental Health Training for Veteran Specific Behavioral Health in Rural Nebraska

Brent Khan

Brent Khan, Ed.D. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has awarded the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska (BHECN) a Mental Health Awareness Training grant in the amount of $375,000.

On January 9, 2018, President Trump issued an executive order supporting mental health care for transitioning service members and included the need for suicide prevention resources. However, getting veterans and their significant others to seek help is challenging. Traditionally, military culture has not encouraged service members or veterans to seek help. In reality, service members having personal illnesses or problems understood these issues could be seen as barriers to fulfilling their duty and, in the past, could also have jeopardized their military career path.

The combination of the stress involved in military service, traumatic events and a lack of support/stigma has led to the rates of trauma and mental illness being excessively high among American veterans. Family members of veterans are also affected by mental health issues, most notably spouses and significant others. Nebraska is currently home to more than 130,000 veterans and their families.
Suicide in veterans is significantly higher than for the general population and is on the rise. Culturally competent mental health awareness and suicide prevention training is a primary need for military families and those who serve them.

The first goal for the Mental Health Awareness Training (MHAT) is to foster alliances with veterans, families of veterans and local and state agencies to create effective recruitment methods and provide veterans culturally specific mental health training and referral pathways for services. The second goal is to train families, caregivers, and service providers to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness and give trainees and other non-behavioral health professionals the ability to have a heightened sense of mental health awareness and knowledge to respond safely.

The MHAT grant will allow BHECN to partner with the Nebraska Association of Local Health Directors (NALHD), VetSET Nebraska and Community Alliance to impact Nebraska Veterans and their families across the state. It will also build upon BHECN’s recent partnerships to assist Community Health Workers to become staff in integrated behavioral health/primary care clinics. The clinic personnel also need the ability to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness in veterans and their families and know how to respond safely.

Since 2009, BHECN has increased the competency of Nebraska’s mental health workforce annually through behavioral health education and training using multiple delivery methods. BHECN will oversee the adoption and implementation of mental health awareness training, suicide prevention training and de-escalation training making sure the programming adheres to veteran cultural competency and encourages program commitment as much as possible.

BHECN expects to train 250 individuals per grant year, for an estimated total of 750 unduplicated individuals in the three-year life of the grant. Training will be targeted to include county veteran service staff, local and state government health department staff, community-based organization staff, faith-based groups, schools, hospital staff, medical providers, the general population and the families of veterans to reduce mental illness and suicide. Brent Khan, EdD, will serve as the Project Director for the Nebraska MHAT.

“Nebraska experiences significant shortages of mental health professionals in 88 of our 93 counties,” Dr. Khan added. “This is an exciting opportunity to make an impact in these shortage areas to increase access to care for our veterans and their families.”

For questions, contact Laura Holly at laura.holly@unmc.edu, (402) 552-7692.

This project is supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number SM081317-01 for 375,000 dollars over three years. This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HHS or the U.S. Government.

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