When we think of professionals who care for aging veterans, we may often immediately think of doctors, nurses, and even pharmacists, but one care pathway you may not consider is geriatric mental health.
While older veterans have a wealth of experience in dealing with challenges, some face long-term or even emerging mental illnesses as they grow older. As our veteran population ages, those who have served our country will need mental health professionals to help them continue to live their best lives.
When it comes to ensuring the mental health of our older veterans, geriatric psychiatrists bring a unique expertise to our team. They focus on the prevention, assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional disorders in older adults. The key difference for geriatric specialists, however, is their experience with older people who have multiple medical problems and take multiple medications.
Aging veterans may experience depression, anxiety, troubling memories of their military service, or stress related to health problems — including pain, sleep problems, or memory problems. Even something as basic as increased difficulty getting around isn’t just limited to the physical – there can be a mental component associated with a possible loss of independence.
“Having access to a specialist who not only understands psychiatric medicine but also the pharmacological goals of the seniors we care for has made a huge difference in our ability to keep our veterans stabilized and safe in our memory care unit,” explained Edith Emerson, who works in the memory care unit at the Togus Maine VA.
VA has many programs to support older veterans and their families and caregivers, both online and in person at our facilities. We also provide a range of specialized geriatric services for veterans and families to help them cope with complex mental health conditions in later life.
However, the need for geriatrics specialists across the country is growing. Today, there are more than 11 million living people age 60 and older who have served in the military, representing the largest veteran population in the nation. As these veterans find their way to Virginia, we must be ready to meet their needs.
“There is a nationwide shortage of geriatric services, specifically geriatric psychiatry,” said Dr. Isis Burgos-Chapman, a geriatric psychiatrist who provides community living and outpatient counseling services through one of Virginia’s Clinical Resource Centers.
A career in care
Between our ever-expanding telehealth services, inpatient support positions, and outpatient support opportunities, there are many ways a mental health professional with a geriatric focus can reach veterans and demonstrate our core values of integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence
These core values define who we are as VA employees and how we will fulfill our mission to care for Veterans in all their times of need. These five ideals describe our culture and serve as the foundation for how we interact with our veterans and our fellow employees.
- Integrity: We choose to act with the highest professional standards and uphold the trust of all we work with.
- Commitment: We work diligently to serve Veterans and are driven by a sincere belief in the VA’s mission.
- Advocacy: We are truly veteran-centric as we work to identify, address and advance the interests of veterans.
- Respect: We treat everyone we serve and work with with dignity and respect because we believe you have to show respect to earn it.
- Excellence: We strive for the highest quality and value continuous improvement.
Working at the VA
If you have an interest in working with older veterans, whether at one of our facilities or in their own homes, the VA has an opportunity for you.