Health Care

‘Addiction is a disease, not a moral failure’: Wichita VA building treatment facility

A new $4.4 million facility at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita will provide veterans inpatient treatment for addictions.

It is “a project that provides the badly needed service for veterans between Kansas City and Oklahoma City,” medical center director Rick Ament said at a groundbreaking Friday.

In any given month, the Wichita hospital sends 15 to 20 veterans to Leavenworth or Kansas City for residential treatment of substance abuse, VA spokesman Akeam Ashford told The Eagle.

With the new 12-bed facility, medical professionals will be able to treat veterans in Wichita. There are 183 veterans enrolled in the outpatient substance abuse program in Wichita.

“This is an important day, because you are a part of what will be the only facility within 190 miles of where we are right now,” Ashford said at the ceremony. “Imagine the work we will be able to do for our veterans and their families through this facility.”

The hospital initially tried to add a psychiatric unit, but could not secure funding for it. So it proposed an 8,272-square-foot, 12-bed inpatient facility for addiction treatment.

The facility will be constructed so more usable space could be built on top of it in the future, Ashford said. Construction is expected to be completed in October with patient treatments starting in January 2020.

Dr. John Chelf, associate chief of staff in behavioral health, said several treatments have been developed to help people recover from addiction.

“Science has taught us that addiction is a disease, not a moral failure,” Chelf said.

“We know that a structured and supportive environment at the outset of treatment can increase the chances of a good outcome,” he continued. “We are very excited to be able to offer a new facility to the veterans of western Kansas that will augment their recovery efforts. Veterans will be able to stay in a safe, comfortable place as they start their individualized journey to recovery.”

Rep. Roger Marshall said he worked at Wichita’s VA hospital as a medical student 30 or more years ago. Now, as a member of Congress, he said he is determined to reduce the number of veteran deaths by suicide, citing opioid abuse as a risk factor for suicide.

Marshall also read a statement from former Sen. Bob Dole:

“I am sorry I can’t be with you in Wichita today, but I am very proud to know that the VA bearing my name will soon be home to this important substance abuse treatment facility for veterans. More than just a groundbreaking, today marks a moment of real progress in the way we take care of our nation’s heroes. ‘Comprehensive care’ of our veterans now includes the entire spectrum of care — supporting these men and women in all aspects of their well-being.”

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