CHILLICOTHE — Tisha Hardin, veterans justice outreach specialist at the Chillicothe VA Medical Center, is the recipient of the Rita Gillick 2021 Mental Health Advocate of the Year Award.

The Rita Gillick Mental Health Advocacy Award was established in 1986 in honor and memory of Rita Gillick, an early advocate for those with mental illnesses. Gillick was hospitalized for over 25 years of her life and upon discharge, became a founding member of The Gathering Place.

She was known statewide as an advocate for client’s rights and consumer directed services and served on the Athens-Hocking-Vinton Community Mental Health Board for six years. The award is presented annually to a person who demonstrates the overwhelming willpower of Rita Gillick to never stop in their advocacy efforts for those with mental illnesses.

Ms. Hardin was nominated and selected by the Athens-Hocking-Vinton Alcohol, Drug, Addiction and Mental Health Services Board for her dedication and commitment to serving individuals experiencing mental illness and justice-involved veterans through the VA’s Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) Program.

The Department of Veterans Affairs development the Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) Program in an effort to avoid unnecessary criminalization of mental illness and extended incarceration among veterans. The initiative ensures that eligible veterans in contact with the criminal justice system have access VA mental health and substance abuse services.

The Veterans Justice Outreach Program has three focus areas: courts and attorneys, law enforcement and jails.

The VJO provides information and education about veterans’ issues to include Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), as well as services available. VJO works with communities to develop and implement Veterans’ Treatment Courts for participating and interested communities.

These courts address the issues of defendants with specific needs or circumstances not adequately handled in the traditional court system. They often reduce justice system operating costs by lowering rates of re-incarceration. Veterans courts connect veteran defendants with needed services in a supportive, veteran-focused environment.

Through VJO, education is provided to law enforcement on veterans issues and strategies to help work with veterans. This connection is another promising avenue for connecting justice-involved veterans with needed mental health, substance use disorder and other services. VJO and clinical staff train law enforcement personnel on veteran-specific issues, including PTSD and TBI. VJO also acts as a resource to law enforcement as needed.

VJO develops communication with jails to identify veterans who are incarcerated and engage veterans in available services upon their release. VJO provides services to justice-involved veterans in the communities they serve. In communities where justice programs relevant to veterans exist (veterans courts, mental health and drug courts), VJO takes the initiative in building working relationships to see that eligible justice-involved veterans get needed care.

In communities where no such programs exist, VJO reaches out to potential justice system partners to connect eligible justice-involved veterans with VA services.

Available health care services may include:

• Assistance with VA eligibility and enrollment

• Inpatient and outpatient medical care

• Domiciliary and nursing home care

• Specialized care for women veterans

• Mental health services, including readjustment counseling, alcohol and drug treatment, work therapy, intimate partner violence therapy, recidivism therapy, case management and PTSD treatment

• Military Sexual Trauma (MST) counseling and treatment

For more information about the VJO Program, contact Tisha Hardin at 740-542-9461.

Veterans not enrolled in the VA healthcare system are encouraged to visit www.chillicothe.va.gov/enrollment.asp to register or call 740-772-7170 with questions.

Visit the Chillicothe VA webpage (www.va.gov/chillicothe) and follow on facebook (facebook.com/ChillicotheVAMC) and twitter (@chillicothevamc).

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