The Warriors Research Institute is enrolling veterans and their families in a program to help the individuals with mental health issues. The program is free and treatment will be delivered online through a Telehealth clinic or in person through one-on-one sessions.

The Warriors Research Institute is affiliated with the Baylor Scott & White Research Institute.

Susie Gulliver, Warriors Research Institute director, is co-leader of the project. Eric Meyer, associate director of the institute, is principal leader of the project.  

Texas Veterans Commission for Veterans Assistance provided $500,000 to expand the evidence-based project statewide. The funding was awarded in order to expand the project to reach veterans throughout Texas.

 “This is important to us for a couple of reasons,” Gulliver said. ‘We have evidence-based care but it’s not reaching the people who need it, and we have lots of providers, but they are not trained in the delivery of that care.”

The veterans and family project, which preceded this latest program, broke down some barriers by moving to a Telehealth platform. Anyone with access to a computer or cellphone can have face-to-face therapy from the comfort of their home.

The issue of untrained providers has been dealt with by educating students from different mental health training programs in Texas on the specific protocols of the project.

“We are delivering care that we know works, to veterans who can’t get to the care, and we are training the next generation of providers,” she said.

There are few resources for veteran families, unless they are well insured.

“Everything we do is informed by the culture and our program manager for the Texas veterans project, for both the research and non-research portions, is a family member of a veteran who is now a police officer,” Gulliver said.

Alton McCallum, a counselor, chaplain, West Point graduate and a retired Army veteran who was injured in battle, trains the individuals working on the Warrior Research Institute projects on military cultural sensitivity and provides monthly supervision for trainees on the aspects of cultural awareness.

“This is an exciting time for us because we’re doing all of things we set out to do,” Gulliver said.

Though it’s early in the process, the good news is the majority of people who participate in Telehealth stay all the way through a full course of treatments, their symptoms are declining and their satisfaction with the treatment is high; 87 percent would recommend Telehealth to others and 93 percent would do Telehealth again, Gulliver said.

Some of the best outcome research, being done by giants in the field, have retention rates lower than 50 percent, Gulliver said.

People in the treatment program are staying, they’re getting better, they are satisfied and feedback indicates the patients appreciate that there’s no waiting room, no parking lot, the therapists are very engaged and the work being done is practical and applies to their life situations.

For some of the participants this is their first time in therapy and they have preconceived notions that therapy is about going back in time and pouring over the details of everything that has gone wrong.

Now it’s more about acknowledging what happened and its effect on your life, and figuring out how to live today and going forward.

“Our therapy is very oriented toward living today and expanding your battery pack for whatever new stressors that are going to show up,” Gulliver said. “We can be pretty sure that life is going to present new stressors.”

Participants may come to the program with a variety of diagnoses from other providers and because this is a service delivery project, the baseline assessment is clinically informed. Several have come in with a diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder or depression. Some have current or past substance abuse issues.

Depending on the needs, the project builds out programs to meet those needs, including anger management, parenting skills or dealing with aging parents.

“We think that the work we are doing now will be useful for other populations,” she said.

Getting the word out about the program can be challenging; some assume there will be obstacles, hindering entry into the program, Gulliver said.

In selecting the mental health trainees, an emphasis has been put on having a military experience.

The program was funded for a year and the clock is ticking, she said. A grant application for the next year already has been submitted.

The Warrior Research Institute is made up of 13 people working on shared projects and always is looking to grow. Gulliver said she’d like to see it grow to about 25 in the next few years.

Projects from the past build upon each other, with aspects of research from years ago playing a role in new efforts, she said.

Information gleaned from research on a firefighters project Gulliver began working on years ago led to a project on peer support for Texas firefighters, followed by peer support for veterans and veterans families.

This statewide Telehealth project builds on the Vet PaTHs pilot program, which focused on peer support and Telehealth in Central Texas.

“Our successful Vet PaTHs pilot demonstrated this treatment format as a great match for this population,” Meyer said. “The vast majority of feedback we received from both veterans and family members showed substantial improvements in quality of life as a result of these services.”

The goal is to have 200 people in the program by the time the current grant expires.