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McNabb Center Opens Free Treatment Facility for Veterans, Military

About a quarter of veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety or chemical dependency, estimates the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

And as many as half of veterans who need mental-health or substance-abuse services go without.

That’s unacceptable for any population – but especially for “those who have courageously served our country,” said Helen Ross McNabb Center President and CEO Jerry Vagnier.

Next Thursday, McNabb Center will have a ribbon-cutting and dedication of a new Middlebrook Pike facility specifically to provide services to military personnel and veterans and their family members – for free.

Funded by $715,000 in donations – including money from Consolidated Nuclear Security, an Oak Ridge-based company that contracts with the military; Mitch and Debby Steenrod; and the Helen Ross McNabb Foundation – the center has enough funding for its first three years, Vagnier said. He said McNabb aims to serve 100 veterans there by the end of this year, at least 200 in 2017 – regardless of length of service or discharge status, and without the long wait those without insurance might otherwise face for treatment.

A U.S. Department of Defense study suggests the prescription drug misuse rate for veterans is more than 2.5 times higher than the civilian rate -- 11.7 percent among veterans, compared with 4.4 percent in the non-veteran population. It could be even higher for female veterans, the study suggested.

And a VA study in July said 20 veterans per day commit suicide -- most of whom weren't receiving mental-health services. The veteran suicide rate is about 21 percent higher than the suicide rate among civilians.

McNabb will file insurance for those who have it, but won’t charge any veteran or military personnel for services, regardless, Vagnier said. Right now, “no tax dollars will be used for the delivery of these services,” since all the operating costs were raised through donations, he said, but McNabb Center hopes to eventually contract with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

"We started this process about two years ago, after we began to hear from the community that there were people who couldn’t access VA services or weren’t eligible for VA services, and we decided that gap was something we needed to step in and try to fill,” Vagnier said.

In January, the nonprofit paid $390,000 for the low brick building at 3712 Middlebrook Pike, constructed in 1991 as a government office, then spent the better part of this year renovating the inside with calming neutral colors and sleek lines.

Inside, the walls are lined with black-and-white photographs of McNabb staffers who served in the military, as well as military-themed photos and art. The building will be dedicated to a local serviceman, whose name will be revealed Thursday.

The counselors hired are themselves veterans, said Amber McMillan, McNabb’s clinical director for Military Services as well as for Loudon County services, and those who work in the center receive training specific to helping veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, co-occurring disorders, suicidal thoughts “and other invisible wounds.”

McMillan said besides mental-health treatment, the center will provide a service similar to McNabb’s Intensive Outpatient Programs for those with substance abuse issues. Though it won’t do detox services, she said, clients can detox at McNabb Center’s Crisis Stabilization Unit or elsewhere and then get other services at the veterans’ center – all anonymously.

“There are a lot of veterans and active military who are distrustful that if they go to the VA, it might affect their status,” Vagnier said.

“There’s also a stigma” related to getting mental-health or substance-abuse treatment, he added: “To be a provider not related to the government, they may feel more comfortable and have more of a sense of anonymity.”

The decision to also offer services to family members was a natural one, Vagnier said: “We think if we can effectively help the veteran through their recovery that it will touch many lives, not just their own.”

McNabb Center began providing services through the program to a few service members and veterans beginning this past spring, but only now has the Military Services program fully implemented. For information, call 865-444-2333 or Vagnier said clients don’t have to be Knox County residents, as long as they can find transportation to receive services.

McNabb Center also provides supportive housing for homeless veterans, with 21 units in two buildings. The program uses location-based Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers.

The U.S. Interagency Council on the Homeless estimates about 76 percent of homeless veterans experience alcohol, drug, and/or mental health problems. The Knoxville Homeless Management Information Center indicates at least 11 percent of the city’s homeless are veterans.

Vagnier said community support for starting the program has been encouraging.

“I can’t tell the outpouring we’ve had – not only from people who care about veterans, but from the veterans themselves,” he said.

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