VA health care system director address concerns over PTSD program move

TEMPLE, Texas (KWTX) The director of the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, Christopher Sandles, explained why he wants to move a PTSD program from the Waco VA to the Temple location.

Photo by Brodie Putz

The PTSD Residential Rehab Program (PRRP) is the one in question.

The move has been met by resistance from several veterans and a Congressman.

But the director told us why he still thinks this is the best move.

Wednesday, April 8, Sandles hosting a teleconference town hall inviting about 7,000 veterans to hear what's happening in the VA and ask questions.

About 800 of them participated.

Sandles gave several updates including starting construction on a 350 space parking garage at the Temple VA this fiscal year, a proposed primary care facility on post at Fort Hood, and the plan to bring the PTSD program to Temple.

Sandles says it has been decided that the PRRP will move to the domiciliary in Temple, a residential facility where the substance abuse program is currently located.

Experts explained treating PTSD and Substance Abuse Disorder simultaneously reduces incidence of relapse for both disorders.

Sandles says about half of the 151 people in the PRRP program in 2017 dealt with substance abuse, far more than the 20 percent national average.

While one caller was in clear opposition to the program move, a poll conducted with the callers on the line showed most people on the call were in favor of the move, 74 percent, compared to 26 percent against it.

One point that did not come up during the teleconference was the sticking point many veterans who are or have been in the PRRP expressed to News 10, the environment.

They know they've had success in Waco at the Doris Miller VA.

"Just on the grounds is very chill, and on the floor and in the buildings, it's all very chill, it's not ovecrowded," said veteran Leo, "it's very, very relaxed."

And they have concerns about the domiciliary in temple.

Sandles addressed after the teleconference contending the domiciliary is peaceful.

"I walk the dom at least once a week. It is a large building, it's a collegiate environment, there's a lake next to it. Our veterans can go fishing, they can ride bikes, so this idea that there's no serenity that exists on this campus, and the only atmosphere that exists where we can effectively treat PTSD in Waco is simply not the truth," Sandles.

Sandles showed us the domiciliary.

It can hold up to 194 beds, single or double rooms.

There's an indoor recreation area, a store, and a cafeteria.

"There's the courtyard outside, there's the break tv area, there are places we can go," substance abuse patient Rayford told us.

"I have no complaints about the facility. I was on my last leg when I came in," he said, "nothing has helped me better in life than this facility."

But one veteran who has stayed at the domiciliary for substance abuse still feels the programs shouldn't be in the same place.

"You can sense and see the tension," Clifford told us, "I see potential for things to get heated with substance abuse, and you're dealing more with the problems with PTSD, so I think it's good for them to be separated."

News 10 asked about safety and fights.

"I have not had a large number of assault reports that come from the domiciliary. What i can tell you is I fell we have an appropriate physical presence of security in the domiciliary. We do have a police station, in the dom, we have controlled entry in the domiciliary after hours," Sandles said, "so what I would ask is of those that have opinions, and you're right a lot of it was about the environment, let us know what we can do to improve it."

And the other reason for the move Sandles says is to create room at the Waco location for female residential patients like those in the Women's Traumatic Recovery Unit or those dealing with substance abuse or depression.

He says they've told him they've had issues arise in the predominantly male environment, and some have even left the program because of it.

"They've expressed dissatisfaction with things such as sexual harassment and I can't think of another way to put it, and discomfort really when they're in some of the common areas," Sandles said during the teleconference.

Acquanetta Pullins with the Women's Army Corps Veterans Association attended the teleconference.

She said, "I think it's well overdue in moving out of the domiciliary, I think it's an excellent idea and needs to have happened. I just wanted to make sure where it moves to is going to be a positive environment for women."

Several veterans tell News 10 they fear the removal of the PTSD program may a step toward the eventual closure or reduction of the Waco campus.

"That doesn't mean we are trying to downsize the waco campus, that couldn't be further from the truth," Sandles said, "we're making significant investments in the Waco campus."

Sandles says at the Waco campus 300 positions were added in last 5 years.

And $65 million in construction was completed.

A women's psychiatric unit opened there in October.

A $10 million renovation of nursing home on Waco campus is slated to start this summer.

And in the near future Sandles says look for a new call center, cafeteria, and a geropsychiatric unit serving older veterans with dementia.