Alaska veterans and active service members have a new option for seeking treatment of the invisible scars inflicted by combat.
Taya Kyle, widow of U.S. Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle, helped dedicate the Chris Kyle Patriots Hospital in Anchorage July 28.
A decorated Iraq War veteran, Chris Kyle worked with fellow veterans dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, after he returned home from four tours of service. He also authored the autobiography “American Sniper” that became a surprise worldwide blockbuster after its release last Christmas.
Chris Kyle was murdered in 2013 at a Texas shooting range while working with a veteran struggling with PTSD.
Opened in April by North Star Behavioral Health, the facility on Bragaw Street in East Anchorage is a primary treatment center for active duty military and veterans who want help dealing with PTSD, or any other challenges they may face after returning home from deployment.
Kyle said she was first hesitant about allowing her husband’s name to be used in naming the hospital, but after talking with staff she was impressed by the “holistic” treatment North Star Behavioral Health and its sister facilities under Universal Health Services Inc. provide.
“They’re listening to the veterans that come, and that’s what Chris did often,” Kyle said during the dedication ceremony.
North Star Behavioral Health has residential hospitals and treatment centers in Palmer and Anchorage. It is part of the Universal Health Services network of facilities, which offers behavioral health treatment to 450,000 veterans and active-duty military at 160 bases and installations across the country, UHS Vice President Debbie Osteen said.
North Star CEO Dr. Andrew Mayo said the PTSD and substance abuse care programs offered at the Chris Kyle Patriots Hospital were developed after studying what is offered at the 14 other UHS Patriot hospitals. After touring the facilities, potential patients were asked for feedback, which was integrated into the program development, according to Mayo.
Because Alaska’s military bases don’t have a behavioral health facility, active-duty and veterans often go to traditional hospitals where they get acute, crisis treatment, rather than longer-term care, Mayo said.
North Star also offers the state’s only residential preteen focused behavioral health treatment center.
The Chris Kyle Patriots Hospital has capacity for 36 patients in 28-day inpatient treatment programs. At full capacity its current staff of 40 would likely grow to about 100, he said.
“We’re taking patients in as folks are calling, but we’re doing it at a pace to make sure — OK, did we miss anything, did we get everything correct — consistently evaluating our opening strategy from a clinical standpoint,” Mayo said.
Staff includes a full range of therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and dieticians to meet as many individual needs as possible under the core programs.
“What you really have is a program schedule that for the most part is constructed as a core schedule, but then as people’s individual issues are identified, we move them off into the more specialty groups for specialty time with our staff that are more appropriate for their particular issue,” Mayo said in an interview.
Once patients exit the programs they can be transitioned to follow-up care through Veterans Affairs facilities, according to Mayo.
Alaska Commander U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Russell Handy said only half of individuals with PTSD seek treatment and only half of that group gets adequate treatment, which makes facilities like the Chris Kyle Patriots Hospital so important.
Kyle said an average of 22 military veterans commit suicide each day and 80 percent of those are Vietnam War veterans from an era when the psychological wounds of war were not treated, which exemplifies the need to offer treatment today.
Mayo said he believes the hospital’s capacity should meet the need of the state’s military and veterans as demand for what it offers grows. The state has the highest population of veterans per capita in the United States.
Universal Health Services CEO Alan Miller said the Chris Kyle Patriots Hospital is the only facility in the company’s network named after an individual. Mayo said that’s an honor that comes with a responsibility.
“My job is to make sure we fulfill our programs and our outcomes in a way that (Kyle) continues to be proud of us,” Mayo said.