The job of preventing suicides one case at a time

Two life savers proud to know they do make a difference


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Lynn Worley (L) and Carrie Musselwhite (R) are Suicide Prevention Coordinators for the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System (GCVHCS). Worley is stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi, and Musselwhite works at the Joint Ambulatory Care Center in Pensacola, Florida.

Serving on the front line of VA’s number one clinical priority requires a special brand of dedication to a demanding task.

And both ladies have it.

Worley: “My job is to help those who have served and get them the access to whatever care they need.”

Musselwhite: “My dream job of helping Veterans is a very humbling experience.”

They monitor the services for Veterans designated as “high risk for suicide” and are transitional coordinators of care for these patients.

They perform expert crisis consultation, assessment, intervention, safety planning, and outreach for Veterans.


Lynn Worley

Lynn Worley

Worley has 30 years of mental health social worker experience and joined VA four years ago as the Suicide Prevention Coordinator.

“My father, who died in 2014, was an Army Veteran.  I have aunts, uncles and cousins who are Veterans. It’s in my nature to give back and help those who have served.”

Worley and Musselwhite also manage and respond to referrals from the National Veterans Crisis Line.

They assist VA health care providers with treatment plans for patients to ensure that care is coordinated, collaborative, and integrated within the medical center.

Musselwhite also talks about her family when discussing her motivation. “My father was in the Army-Air Corps and I have many relatives who are Veterans. I get a great sense of satisfaction from helping to save lives.

“The attack on 9/11 happened while I was a senior in high school. A lot of my friends with scholarships to college had everything going for them but decided to serve their country.

“And many of them didn’t come back the same. Because I didn’t serve, I wanted to be able to help in a different way.”

While all their cases are critical and important, some require an extra amount of attention and coordination.

Lots of staff and a huge effort

Just one case study of the efforts taken by VA to help Veterans in crisis involved a young combat Veteran with numerous issues.

Worley: “After his tour of combat duty, he had PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury and significant addiction problems which started before he joined the Army. This complicated everything and brings the whole team into action.

“He was in and out of the acute psychiatric unit and just when we thought he was stabilized and ready to be outside, he had a relapse and had to be readmitted.

“This is an example of an intense effort by our case management program. It took lots of staff and required a huge effort all the way around.

“We knew he needed a longer-term VA residential programs and his case manager flew with him to make sure he got there.”

With a smile of relief and fighting a tear, Worley added that she has high hopes for him that this was going to be the turning point.


Carrie Musselwhite

Carrie Musselwhite

Musselwhite remembers one episode while she was training at a local hospital. She visited with a Veteran patient who had never been registered with VA. “He had three combat tours and was only 24. And he didn’t think he was a Veteran. He thought you had to be career or retired. I was glad we got him enrolled…and got him going.”

A regular assignment for the two ladies is training clinical and non-clinical staff on Suicide Prevention with information on risk factors, warning signs and treatment options.

They also manage and respond to referrals from the National Veterans Crisis Line.

When necessary, they assist with crisis management of new and existing patients.

And they explain the importance of VA’s suicide prevention programs with presentations to community social service agencies, military Guard and Reserve units, and Veteran Service Organizations.

What’s it like having a job like this?

Musselwhite smiles and adds, “Well, when you tell people your job, their usual reaction is, ‘Oh my goodness, how do you do that? Are you really going to make a difference? Oh, I could never do that.’

“I just remind them that you or I could be that person on the side of the road or that person struggling. To help save someone’s life and then be able to tell a family member, their children or their spouse, that their loved one is safe – that’s how I can do this.”

Worley agrees: “That’s the reaction I get. ‘Well thank you for what you do.  Thank goodness we have you because we need you. There are Veterans out there who need help.’

“That’s reaffirming. We know – individually – that we do make a difference.

“What gives me a sense of satisfaction is just being there for someone and having that therapeutic relationship. That in and of itself makes a difference.

“Things don’t just get better overnight. A lot of the work we do is planting seeds. The other side of the rainbow is a little ways off sometimes.”


Mary GomingerSpecial thanks to Mary K. Gominger, Chief, Community & Public Affairs Service, Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System, for interview support.

Author

Hans Petersen

Hans Petersen is senior writer-editor for Digital Media, VHA Office of Communications. An Air Force Veteran, Hans also served two years in the Peace Corps and worked for 20 years in broadcasting before joining VA.

Comments

  1. Al Thound    

    Thanks to all of you who are on the front lines of suicide prevention. It is a war in itself.
    I ran across a book based on simple Christian faith about suicide. It may not be permissible to offer due to that.
    It presents suicide as a choice, like Russian roulette. The soul does not die with the body, or, the soul does not exist.
    It’s aimed at college sophomores who take their lives due to stress and anxiety.
    Book: “Troubles with Suicide and Dying”, by Putta Sockinit. I know, it sounds far fetched or not helpful. It’s on Amazon.

  2. Greivingwidow    

    Too late for my Vet . Shot himself in head last month. This country abandoned him after sending him to fight an everlasting war we still are involved in. WHY?

  3. jamesmcgivern    

    Check into Albany Stratton VA in New York….they are closing a out-patient Mental Health Center so another hospital gets parking. The vets will then be scatterd about that VA.

  4. Richard G Kensinger    

    I commend those who are featured and all others who perform this high risk duty! I am a clinical psychologist and professor w/ over 40 years of clinical experience. I served as an AF ER medic from 1969 to 1973. We saved many and lost some. We tend to remember those we lost. I conduct research on combat trauma and provide free consultation to combat vets in my area.
    Thanks so much for this pertinent narrative!
    Rich

  5. John L Harris Sr    

    Veterans Beware!

    Sent to:

    Erik Langhoff

    Alex Azar

    Office for Civil Rights
    U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

    U.S. Attorney Barr

    Robert Wilkie

    Ruthlee G. Bellamy

    Subject: Notice of Consideration to Litigation Against the James J Peters VAMC et al.

    On this the 23rd Day of May 2019, given the fact that the James J Peters VAMC through its facility director, Erik Langhoff has believed willfully and deliberately with malice aforethought denied this veteran medical treatment and reimbursement. While waiting written response from the Secretary of Veteran Affairs, Veteran Affairs Office of the Inspector General, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services veteran do hereby notify the Facility Director of the James J. Peters VAMC, Erik Langhoff, of this Consideration to take legal action against the James J. Peters VAMC et al.

    Where I, undersigned, have had to paid transportation to various appointments, kept said appointments and because of hostile doctors falsifying veteran’s medical records believed at the director of the Facility Director and other subordinate staff members has been retaliated against thorough denial of reimbursement, treated in a condescending manner and otherwise treated less than in a humane manner.

    Moreover, this veteran has filed numerous complaints against members of the James J. Peters VAMC without written response in all matters believed based on the James J. Peters VAMC for reasons believed to include but not limited to ethnic or gender protection of violating staff members. Therefore, this veteran no longer has the means by reason set forth herein and other complaints filed to keep scheduled and surgical follow up appointments by reason of retaliatory maltreatment, denial of reimbursement and retaliatory treatment for complaining and requesting a change in a primary care physician who willfully and deliberate acknowledged falsifying this veteran’s medical records as well as failure on the part of the James J. Peters VAMC to provide written detailed written response to numerous complaints filed and or failure to respond in its entirety.

    In so doing, the James J Peters et al is hereby believed and charged with violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; 8 U.S. Code § 1324c; 18 U.S. Code § 1028.; Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 1973 and 1990 and other civil rights acts and violations; Retaliatory Harassment Violations of 18 U.S. Code § 1519; 18 U.S. Code § 1514; New York State Article 15; among other federal and state laws not otherwise set forth herein.

    Therefore, while awaiting written detailed response from the Veteran Affairs Secretary, Veteran Affairs Office of the Inspector General and the Secretary and Office for Civil Rights of Health and Human Services where responsibility to act on privacy violations falls both to the Veteran Affairs itself and to the Office for Civil Rights within the Department of Health and Human Services. The agencies and individuals charged with enforcing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the federal patient privacy law known as HIPAA. While taking notice as to the fact that the Civil Rights Office has cited the VA more frequently than any other health provider in the nation, yet it has not sanctioned the VA or publicly identified it as the top HIPAA violator.

    The Facility Director of the James J. Peters VAMC et al are reminded that Veteran Affairs employees are not held above the law but held accountable for violations as noted in the Friday, October 21, 2016 Press Release where VA Employee Sentenced to Federal Prison for Falsifying the Medical Records of Hundreds of Veterans. In this case believed like that transpiring within the James J. Peters VAMC it was cited by: United States Attorney Ed Tarver stated, “Our VA officials and employees are entrusted with the health and welfare of some of the most honorable and vulnerable in our nation – our veterans. This Defendant’s actions weakened our nation’s confidence in the agency empowered to care for its veterans. This U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to end corruption wherever it appears.”
    Moreover, Michael J. Missal, Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said, “This guilty verdict came as a result of a collaborative effort between the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General. This VA employee held a position of trust but elected to manipulate veterans’ medical records to give the false appearance that the number of unfulfilled consult appointments was lower than the actual backlog, putting veterans at risk.”

    Finally, the VA-OIG Special Agent in Charge Monty Stokes stated, “Our investigation held this VA employee accountable for his deliberate actions that delayed delivery of vital health care with false statements.” An accountability that believed does not exist within the James J. Peters VAMC where there very well be a similar incident(s) taking place within the James J. Peters VAMC and yet guised for the sole protection of staff employees at the expense of veteran(s) knowingly or unknowingly subjected to such illicit activities believed with the full knowledge of the facility director, Erik Langhoff and others in managerial and supervisory positions.

    In closing, this veteran seeks removal of all hostile retaliatory acts taken against this veteran; full and complete reimbursement of not simply travel expenses but that of existing overcharges to this veteran that has not been completely resolved, permanent removal of all comments, notations or otherwise written by Dr. Idelka Rodrigues permanently removed from this veterans medical records and that this physician never again have anything to do with this veteran and finally given the maltreatment on the part of the James J. Peters VAMC related to travel reimbursements said facility is to provide Veteran Transportation Services (VTS) to all scheduled medical appointments and procedures regardless of the location of said medical appointments and procedures.

    Respectfully,

    Signed on this the 23rd day of May 2019

    Manual of Style Accepted Electronic Signature

    ||John L. Harris, Sr.//

    John L. Harris, Sr.
    Redacted contact information

  6. LeaAnn Perryman    

    My husband of 50 years served 3 years in army from 1966_1969. His name is 1st Lieutenant, David A. Perryman, First Cavalry division. He was awarded the Bronz Star. He suffered with PTSD.
    MY heart goes out to veterans. We live in Humble Texas & I’d really like to volunteer in any way. Thanks for your service. My husband gets excellent care at Houston’s VA HOSPITAL.

  7. Margarita    

    La importancia de comunicación entre las familias y sus amigos es de suma importancia para romper con el ciclo.

Comments are closed.