PRRC Uses Roles to Help Vets - Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas
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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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PRRC Uses Roles to Help Vets

Dr. Amy Cuellar, psychologist and Psychosocial Rehabilitation & Recovery Center team leader, prepares to treat a Veteran from home using VA Video Connect during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Amy Cuellar, psychologist and Psychosocial Rehabilitation & Recovery Center team leader, prepares to treat a Veteran from home using VA Video Connect during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Todd Goodman, Public Affairs Specialist
Thursday, May 14, 2020

In the past, Navy Veteran Donna Dittmann’s depression wouldn’t allow her to make eye contact with people. She would stare at the ground when talking to them. That all changed thanks to Houston VA’s Psychosocial Rehabilitation & Recovery Center (PRRC).

May is Mental Health Awareness Month—a perfect time to highlight VA services that are changing Veterans’ lives for the better. PRRC is one of those programs. It is designed to help Veterans who have a serious mental illness reintegrate into community roles.

“When people develop a serious psychiatric condition, often they stop doing things that give their lives meaning,” said Dr. Amy Cuellar, psychologist and PRRC team leader. “We help them identify how they would like their lives to look and how to go about being successful.”

The program focuses on community roles, being an active member of society. It’s more than just getting a depressed person out of the house. It’s about involvement and being connected.

“It would be a role functioning within a particular setting,” said Cuellar. “Most Veterans have more than one role they want to engage in. Maybe it’s a church member and volunteer, or book club member. These roles help create a well-rounded and balanced life.”

PRRC doesn’t target specific symptoms, instead focusing on roles, which are designed to give life meaning and a sense of purpose.

“When we are living a life that is meaningful, it is going to be less likely that we are experiencing symptoms,” said Cuellar. “But even if we do experience symptoms, there is value to having that sense of quality of life, purpose, and well-being. We all have a sense of needing to belong and needing to contribute and need to feel we are giving back to something bigger than ourselves.”

PRRC gave Dittmann improved self-confidence and the belief that she could set goals and accomplish them. Veterans can participate in group therapy, classes, and have coaches to work with them individually.

Dittmann, whose depression hit her in her 30s, had been in and out of the hospital due to mental illness.

“I felt like being hospitalized for year made me look like a weak person who would crumble at any minute,” she said. “I needed help. I was talking to my psychiatrist who suggested I join the program.”

The painfully-shy Veteran had a lot of goals she wanted to set for herself but didn’t know how to do it. The classes she participated in boosted her confidence and she learned how to speak up for herself and communicate more effectively.

“It helped me come out of my shell,” she said. “I didn’t realize how much I had grown until my coach pointed it out. That made me work even harder. I began to volunteer, which is something I never did before. I learned how to deal with people and handle situations that may arise. The program sharpened my mind and really focused on what I needed at that time.”

One of the biggest challenges to the leaders of PRRC is giving hope to the hopeless, which many of these Veterans are when they join the program.

“You have to hold the hope for them until they are able to have that hope themselves,” said Cuellar. “Helping them develop some hope that people with these disorders can and do recover is absolutely crucial. Without hope nothing else is going to happen.”

Cuellar said that in many cases the Veterans who are in the worst place emotionally at the beginning are the ones that end up succeeding the most.

“The most rewarding aspect is seeing Vets achieve their goals and have a life they didn’t think was possible,” she said.

Criteria for the entering the program is a diagnosed psychotic spectrum disorder, mood disorder, or PTSD. Veterans also must have difficulty functioning and engaging in community-based roles. Interested Veterans need a referral from their mental health provider.

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