They decided to form a nonprofit and to seek funding to cover the cost of treating veterans who were unable to pay. In October 2009, they developed a board of directors, filed articles of incorporation, and applied for tax exempt status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Welcome Home Vets received its official recognition as a non-profit in January 2010.
Welcome Home Vets’ initial funding derived from donations and a motorcycle run/barbecue organized with the help of local veterans. The fundraiser is now an annual event.
In 2010, the fledgling non-profit submitted a proposal to Nevada County Behavioral Health (NCBH) to continue local treatment of vets living with post traumatic stress and other combat-related psychological conditions. The funding would derive from the Community Services and Supports (CSS) component of California’s Mental Health Services Act (MHSA). NCBH accepted the proposal. Grant funding began on October 1, 2010 and has been renewed annually.
Treating Vet Families
Later that same year, Welcome Home Vets received a three-year grant from Nevada County Behavioral Health for an innovative program to treat family members of veterans suffering from military-related psychological trauma. Funded by the “Innovative Programs” (or INN) component of the Mental Health Services Act, the new program formed homogeneous focus groups for veterans, spouses, other relatives and children to determine the needs of family members for psychological treatment and support. The funding ended September 30, 2014 and is not renewable.
Sierra Health Foundation Grant
A grant from Sierra Health Foundation in 2011 allowed Welcome Home Vets to expand its program in two areas.
First, it allowed the non-profit to accept clients who had already received a disability rating for PTSD and wanted treatment at the local level, even though their initial treatment might have been elsewhere. Secondly, it allowed for treatment of veterans whose psychological trauma during military service resulted from non-combat incidents, such as training and operational accidents or military sexual trauma. It also funded implementation of a veterans peer support group and funds to train a facilitator. The funding was for for one year, but Welcome Home Vets continues to pay for the group out of other funds.
Home at Last
For the first two and half years of Welcome Home Vets’ formation, a message phone located in Executive Director Gary Brown’s cabin functioned as a virtual office. Then in July 2012, Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Grass Valley offered to rent the new non-profit office space in the historic Lola Montez House, which the church owns, and Welcome Home Vets got its first office.
Brown recruited the first volunteer—a receptionist—and furnished the office from local thrift shops. The office is now comprised of a reception area, private office—and during the week—a large meeting room with kitchen.The large meeting rooms accommodate group therapy for veterans and families, veteran peer support group meetings and a community education series about the challenges vets and their families who are living with PTSD and other military-related psychological conditions face when they return to civilian life.
Dr. Page Brown, Psy.D, and Mark Thielen, MFT, established Welcome Home Vets in 2009 in response to the need for their veteran clients who were undergoing treatment for post traumatic stress and other combat-related psychological conditions to continue receiving treatment with Brown and Thielen even after their disability ratings from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) had been determined rather than start treatment over with a VA therapist in Auburn or Reno, Nevada.
Brown and Thielen had developed extensive experience working with veterans through the Citrus Heights Vet Center. Under a VA contract, Brown and Thielen received referrals and authorization from the Citrus Heights Vet Center to treat combat veterans for post traumatic stress and other combat-related psychological conditions while the veterans waited to receive disability ratings from the VA, a process that typically took many months to complete. The VA authorized treatment for one year, but would extend it if they failed to award the disability rating during that period.
Most of Brown and Thielen's clients were combat veterans from the Viet Nam War era and were undergoing treatment for insomnia, night terrors, flashbacks, anxiety, major depression—all hallmarks of PTSD—for the first time in more than 30 years.
The problem arose when the VA awarded the disability rating. Under pre-2014 rules, the veteran was no longer eligible for treatment under the Citrus Heights Vet Center contract once the rating had been awarded.
Vets in treatment faced two options: Start over with a new therapist in Reno, some 90 miles away; or start over with a new therapist in Auburn, 25 miles away. To make matters worse, the Auburn clinic had a 4-to-6-week wait for an appointment, and that was only once a month as opposed to weekly therapy with Brown and Thielen. Not surprisingly, most veterans in Brown and Thielen's care opted to discontinue treatment.
"No Vet Left Behind"
Brown and Thielen had worked hard to build trust with their vets clients, who by that point had been in treatment for 12-18 months. More importantly, the two therapists understood the importance of maintaining the therapeutic relationship. A client who had waited 30 years to seek treatment for PTSD almost certainly would not start over with a new therapist in a new town. They needed to find a way to continue treating their clients in Grass Valley.
In response to this need, Brown and Thielen adopted a policy of “No Vet Left Behind.” They bravely determined to treat their vet clients without interruption—and without payment from the Vet Center. If a vet were unable to pay for therapy out-of-pocket, Brown and Thielen would treat the vet at no cost.
The Early Days
Brown and Thielen continued treating vets for low or no cost for several years. However, by 2009, their pro bono work constituted about 40% of their caseloads. At this rate, their practices were quickly becoming financially unsustainable. If Brown and Thielen were going to continue to treat their vet clients who were unable to pay, they needed to generate a funding stream.