New VA facility in Orange to help veterans combat mental illness, addiction & homelessness

New Haven

ORANGE, Conn. (WTNH)– Some of the area’s top politicians cut the ribbon on a new Veterans Affairs facility, one that is designed to combat a different kind of epidemic.

The new VA Annex in Orange is an expansion of the West Haven VA, but it is less of a traditional hospital and more focused on keeping veterans from falling victim to drug addiction, mental health issues and suicide.

Diana Brassell helps other veterans now, but she struggled when she left the military.

“Multiple suicide attempts and relentless self-harming behaviors that were punctuated with numerous in-patient psychiatric admissions, homelessness, residential programs, and eventually a nursing home placement,” Brassell explained.

The new Orange Annex is designed to help veterans with exactly those kinds of issues.

“This is a facility that is dedicated to treating serious mental illness, substance abuse disorders, homelessness,” said the Chief of the VA Connecticut HCS Mental Health Service Line, Dr. Ismene Petrakis. “We have augmented the mental health staff with wellness, with whole body health.”

It is a big facility, some 45,000 square feet, and the ribbon cutting was big as well. Five members of Congress came, a testament to the importance of a different epidemic the VA has been fighting for years.

“When we are losing 17 veterans, that’s the average, every day, to coronavirus, we continue to lose 20 veterans a day to suicide,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

Diana Brassell says she got help at the West Haven facility known as the Errera Center, which  the Orange Annex now replaces. She says that help made all the difference.

“You saw through my rough, calloused exterior and discovered a gentle wounded warrior that I carefully buried in an effort to survive,” Brassell said of the staff there.

Which is exactly what the new facility is all about: Not necessarily treating the visible wounds of war, but the scars we cannot see.

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