“I plan to stay in business for as long as I can,” said Melotti, who advised her clients to keep their appointments with VA counselors, keep record of their treatment and do whatever else is necessary.
“Don’t be complacent,” she told them. “Don’t take things for granted, because you don’t know what will happen in the future.”
Two years ago, the VA informed Re-Entry’s clients in West Virginia they could no longer be seen by Melotti and her associates, but had to go to the VA’s Cumberland Outpatient Clinic. Maryland patients could continue treatment at Re-Entry.
The decision drew considerable protest, and a year ago the VA allowed West Virginia patients to keep going to Re-Entry.
“This is the fourth time West Virginia veterans have been cut off,” she said. “The VA said a year ago they made a mistake and would give veterans the option (of where to be treated).”
Now, Melotti said, she has been ordered to stop seeing patients on the grounds that her staff lacks qualification and certification.
“I’ve been told over a hundred times I’m not qualified to treat veterans,” she said.
Christine Melotti, a staff member, said her mother “is one of the people who wrote the book on PTSD,” meaning post traumatic stress disorder, a psychological condition that is suffered by many veterans but was not categorized until the 1980s. Re-Entry treats more than 150 veterans for PTSD on a regular basis.
She said when regulations concerning PTSD counseling were adopted in 2004, they specified that those who treated it before that date were considered to be qualified and certified — “grandfathered” into the system.
Peggy said she submitted a proposal to extend her contract, but was told it had never been received and that there would be an expansion of VA-based services instead.
About 60 veterans and some of their wives attended a meeting with Melotti on Tuesday at the headquarters of Chapter 172, Vietnam Veterans of America.
Many talked about the effect the closure would have in their lives. Their names are being withheld out of respect for their privacy as mental health counseling patients, and here is a sampling of what they said.
• “When I first came back out of the service, if it hadn’t been for Peggy at that time, I wouldn’t be alive today.”
• “I’d have shot my brains out if it hadn’t been for her. I don’t know what to do, I don’t know who to see.”
• “Why did they pay the bills to her for 25 years, if she wasn’t qualified?”
• “Peggy has been like my mother. She’s been taken away, but I still have to stop in and see her because she’s been my life line.”
The group decided to begin a lobbying effort to save Re-Entry, including writing to members of Congress, newspapers and visiting any officials who may be able to help, including newly appointed VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a retired Army general.
“We need some action,” said one man. “We need to go to the top. Let’s go to the president. The politicians say they’re going to help veterans, and we need to see they do that.”