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Fargo VA gets $8.5M to expand mental health services

FARGO -- The Fargo Veterans Affairs Health Care System will get $8.5 million in federal funding in fiscal year 2013 to expand mental health services to Fargo-area veterans.

Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., made the announcement Wednesday after touring the Fargo VA Medical Center's mental health care unit.

The senators also toured the construction of an $8 million surgical wing with five state-of-the-art operating rooms.

Hoeven said the latest generation of veterans has faced much in the long war on terror.

"We are a nation that has been at war for more than 10 years. We have veterans that have been deployed, two, three, four and more times," Hoeven said.

In addition to post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and other illnesses, Hoeven said suicide is on the rise among veterans and returning soldiers.

"We've got to get on top of this. We've got to get ahead of the curve," Hoeven said.

"The care for our veterans unites us across party lines," Klobuchar said. "We believe veterans are an area where you can't have party lines."

Hoeven and Klobuchar praised the VA Medical Center's work with community-based clinics and local veterans' groups, as well as telemedicine initiatives, which they said have made mental health care more available and effective for veterans living in rural areas.

That's especially important for troops from Guard and Reserve units, who often return to rural hometowns instead of bases where they can get treatment, Klobuchar said.

"We want to make sure that rural areas get the best health care and get the same kind of health care that you can get in the big facilities," she said.

Dr. Jay Phillippi said the center's suicide prevention program brings together several programs to reduce pressures on veterans. The use of telemedicine for therapy has helped, he said.

"It provides awareness and hope and puts the veteran in the center of care," Phillippi said. "We want to make sure that they are the ones who are first and foremost."

The VA Medical Center offers services for 89,000 veterans in North Dakota, northeast South Dakota and northwest Minnesota.

Last year, the facility served 31,000 patients.

"For all they've done for us, we need to make sure we are there for them," Hoeven said.