Construction of a new psychiatric ward at the Buffalo VA hospital to accommodate veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological wounds from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan is expected to start sometime in 2010.
Unlike the existing psychiatric wing known as 10-D, a lockdown facility for treatment of veterans of any age with severe mental illness, the new ward will not be under lock and key and will serve a younger population of returning veterans.
“The new unit will be an open general psychiatric ward for veterans with less severe symptoms and generally from a younger age population,” VA spokeswoman Evangeline E. Conley said.
The VA is taking the action in response to concerns raised by veterans of the current wars who have found it difficult to recover in the existing ward, where there are loud noises and other disturbances that can trigger symptoms of PTSD.
Details of the new ward, such as the number of beds and the cost, are still being worked out. Hospital officials, Conley said, are in the final stages of working with an architect to design the unit.
For some veterans, the changes cannot come soon enough.
“Doors slam, and people scream at night,” said Edward J. Delmonte II, a psychologically disabled Army veteran who has been in and out of 10-D at the hospital on Bailey Avenue since returning home from Iraq in late 2005.
Michael Liberta, who served with the Army National Guard in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, said he too had a difficult time while in 10-D.
“I almost flew off the chain there. I had to go without medications for a night,” Liberta said. “I felt degraded.”
Despite the criticisms, Conley says the VA in the last year has worked hard to improve services in 10-D. Enhancements, she said, include:
• Increased individual counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy, and additional assistance from a recreational therapist to provide more recreation and leisure activities, including tai chi, for patients.
• All unit staff members receiving eight hours of training to be more effective in working with different behavioral issues that surface in the ward.
• Using pets as part of the therapy program.
In addition, physical improvements have been made to 10-D that include a $500,000 upgrade in new windows with built-in blinds to provide privacy for patients.
Starting Tuesday, Conley said, a Support and Family Education Workshop, consisting of 18 sessions, is scheduled to begin. The workshop is designed to increase understanding of mental illness and the early signs of it. Tuesday’s session starts at 4 p. m. in Freedom Hall on the third floor of the hospital.