Pathway Home reinvents itself to help Veterans Struggling in College

Pathway Home reinvents itself to help Veterans Struggling in College

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Howard Yune

February 28, 2016 (Yountville, CA) – Nearly half a year after it suspended operations, leaders of The Pathway Home in Yountville are organizing a comeback – with a new focus on helping those struggling to shift from military service to civilian college life.

The program had treated about 450 returning veterans with combat-related metal stress, but difficulty with raising money—more than $1 million per year—caused the board to stop accepting new veterans last fall and look at new ways to make the project sustainable.

Now a new team, including members of the Pathway board, state and federal veterans’ agencies, and Napa Valley College, hope to revive the therapy program by the end of 2016, organizers said. Plans call for the home to house clients in leased space at the Veterans Home of California, where Pathway operated from 2008 to 2015, and to partner with NVC in offering support services at the Napa campus, with help from staff from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.

The focus on bringing veterans’ aid to campus could become Pathway’s road to the future as it seeks to make its services sustainable for the long haul, and possibly create a model for other therapy programs – and colleges – to copy.

From its opening eight years ago, Pathway set a new course for treating veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, providing intensive inpatient treatment for up to four months at a time under the guidance of other veterans. But despite millions of dollars in donations, the program struggled to pay for itself, eventually halving its original 30-person capacity before going on hiatus in September.

In rebooting the therapy program, directors are aiming to use the expertise of other agencies while reaching out to clients trying to use college as their path to a stable civilian life.

Pathway clients would room at Pathway’s leased space at the Veterans Home’s Madison Hall, then travel by van to NVC for classes, according to Oscar de Haro, the school’s vice president of student services.

At the college, students would have access to a collection of counseling, tutoring and other services, according to Keith Armstrong, who directs the VA’s satellite clinic at City College of San Francisco. The federal agency would supply a mental health counselor to work with student clients both at the college and at Pathway in Yountville.

Enrollment in a renewed Pathway has not been set, but Armstrong suggested the program could accommodate between 10 and 20 veterans initially.

The expanded support program proposed at NVC is modeled after similar veterans’ centers the VA’s Bay Area division already runs at other two-year institutions, he said. By combining VA staffing with NVC’s existing veterans’ services, it would parallel the San Francisco City College program’s melding of psychotherapy, social work and medication management with more focused aid in finding housing, getting health care through the VA system, writing resumes, and other tasks.

Bringing the safety net close to the classroom can be the difference that lets more veterans attain a stable life while at their most vulnerable, Armstrong predicted.

“The idea is to provide a one-stop shopping model so that people can get their services while they’re at school, and decrease the stress of juggling work, school, family life and VA appointments,” he said Tuesday.

Veterans studying at NVC already are exempted from the college’s $46-per-unit fee. In addition, those being treated through Pathway likely could use housing stipends from the GI Bill to pay for their stays at the Yountville home, according to Patti Morgan, the school’s dean of financial aid.

Additional support may come from reimbursements by the VA for veterans who enter work-study programs while signing up for at least nine units of courses, said Lynette Cortes, veterans’ services specialist for the college.

Any steps to help pick up expenses are vital in reviving a program that cost about $1.2 million per year in its original form, according to Mike Horak, Pathway’s director of administration and development.

Pathway got its launch funding from a private $5.6 million grant delivered through the Tides Center, a donor fund based in San Francisco. But after working through its seed money, the home was forced to rely mostly on local fundraising in the absence of reimbursement from the VA or Tricare, the federal health system for military personnel, retirees and dependent.

“While the Napa Valley is a generous community, when you looked at the grand scheme of things, we only have a small building and the ability to bring in only so many people at one time,” Horak said. “It was a highly expensive program to operate, and we weren’t necessarily able to attract (donors) with a broad perspective.”

Since graduating its last class of clients Sept. 17, Pathway’s board has continued its fundraising and garnered about $417,000. Its lease at the Veterans Home will remain in force through the end of 2017, he said.

An 11-member volunteer committee with representatives from the VA, Veterans Home and the state Department of Veterans Affairs is advising Pathway in its transition to campus-based aid. The committee also includes Veterans Home administrator Don Veverka, Tug McGraw Foundation co-founder Jennifer Brusstar and psychology professors from UC San Francisco, among others.

Ultimately, according to Horak, Pathway leaders hope to create a system that other colleges can emulate in order to spread the benefits to returning veterans elsewhere in the Bay Area.

Armstrong, of the VA’s San Francisco division, hoped The Pathway Home’s return will point the way to greater teamwork.

“You want to help veterans use the GI Bill wisely, to graduate as quickly as they can to four-year schools or vocational training,” said Armstrong, of the VA’s San Francisco division. “If we can provide academic and mental health counseling under one umbrella, these people will have a better opportunity to succeed. That’s the mutual goal of the state, the Veterans Home, Pathway and the VA.

“Maybe it’s an example of the future of partnerships, the idea that the VA can’t do it alone and the community can’t do it alone,” he said. “It’s within these partnerships that veterans will benefit.”

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