Born Out of Passion, BayCare's Veterans Intervention Program Fills the Gap for Veterans
Independence Day is a good time to pause and be grateful for all who have served in one of the nation’s military branches.
For many veterans, serving in the armed forces was a lifelong dream. For others, it was a hopeful step to a better life or an exciting future. Fortunately for many, events unfolded as planned. They have a lifelong career or leave with the future they dreamed. For others who have served our country, the dream does not match reality. After discharge, they or their families find life outside the military can be difficult to navigate, and they do not know where to turn for help.
Over the years BayCare’s Behavioral Health team saw many of these veterans, but not until they were experiencing a crisis. In 2007 as veterans began returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, a few leaders from BayCare Behavioral Health and other community partners stepped forward with a passion to help those who had served their country. Their vision was to develop a system of care that would help all veterans and their families develop and maintain their coping skills before, during and after deployment.
“This was a grassroots effort from the heart,” said Erica Smith, behavioral health manager, who was one of those leaders who had the vision for what is now BayCare Behavioral Health’s Veterans Intervention Program (VIP). “Though we were already serving veterans, we knew we could make the most impact if our help came before the crisis,” added Smith. “We wanted to meet the person’s needs before those unmet needs created an emergency for the veteran or the family.”
The program began without outside funding but with a directive to take care of veterans regardless of their ability to pay simply because it was the right thing to do for those who had served the country.
In 2016, members of the Florida Legislature recognized the gap being filled by the Veterans Intervention Program and began appropriating money annually to support it. In the most recent legislative session, the program received $485,000 through legislation sponsored by Sen. Danny Burgess and Rep. Ardian Zika with the help of State Senate President Wilton Simpson, who has long supported this program.
This money allows the Veterans Intervention Program (VIP) to provide personalized and specialized outreach, information and referral services, peer navigation and behavioral health services for Veterans and their family members. The program provides case managers to come alongside veterans to help them navigate available services and remove barriers to receiving the services.
“We are blessed to be able to help people who have dedicated their lives to serving our country,” said Maria Romanchak, program supervisor.
The Veterans Intervention Program typically serves more than 100 veterans annually. Their needs are many and varied. Some like James needed help with housing, “I would like to say thank you to BayCare for helping us out. If it weren’t for your organization, we would be homeless, not knowing where we would be living. I was scared of being evicted but with your help, we have a place to live, and things are getting better for us.”
A combat veteran wrote, “My transition into society was a complete disaster. … When I finally hit my bottom and had no where else to turn, BayCare was waiting with open arms. … BayCare gave me the tools to get my life back.”
Another wrote, “You mean a lot to me. Without your help, all of this incredible help I am getting would be impossible. It’s good to know someone cares when you feel alone.”
The services range from housing assistance to counseling to residential treatment. Through the Veterans Intervention Program individuals have received job training and transportation assistance to ensure they can get to their job. Some people have simply needed a support group to connect with those who are experiencing or have experienced similar life circumstances. The Veterans Intervention Program offers that too.
Though most of the work of the Veterans Intervention Program occurs in Pasco County, the team is available to serve any veteran or family member who needs help. If you or someone you know could benefit from this program, please email BHVeterans@BayCare.org.