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