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Clubhouse Offers Community Healing For Veterans

Getting back to life can be difficult for anyone diagnosed with serious mental illness, including veterans. In Indiana, a new partnership gives them another option for rehabilitation in their community. 

The Veterans Administration is working with one organization to offer these services to more veterans in their communities.

Circle City Clubhouse is like a second home for David Fearance. The 59-year-old Army veteran has been coming to this converted office building on Indy's west side for nearly three years. 

"I work at Circle City Clubhouse house," says Fearance.

He was in the army for 10 years. Fearance suffers from severe psychosis. Before he started coming to the Clubhouse he was mostly homebound.

Now he answers the phone, helps in the kitchen and in other ways. 

"I vacuum. What I should do is clean these windows," says Fearance.

Clubhouse members help staff and other members run the daily clubhouse program. It is open to anyone who has been seriously affected by mental illness. 

There is a growing need for mental health services for vets. An estimated one-quarter of active military members showed signs of mental health conditions.

Jay Brubaker is executive director of Circle City Clubhouse.

"We start instead of saying, 'what's wrong with you?' we say what's right," says Brubaker. "What are the things you're good at? What are the things that you like to do? We try to get our members involved based on that."

Clubhouse members may help cook meals or clean. They can get vocational training or help run the thrift shop inside the club. 

"So that they can build an identity based on these are the things that you're good at and use those then to kind of help get back into the community," says Brubaker. 

And getting back into the community is the goal of another initiative recently launched through the Veterans Administration. The Mission Act provides more opportunities for veterans to benefit from programs in the community, like Clubhouse. 

Jason Riddle is a social worker with the Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis. 

"It really drives home the need for community connection and, and, and veterans to connect not to keep them separated," says Brubaker. 

The VA doesn’t have this type of psychosocial rehabilitation model and the Mission Act makes it easier for VA providers to refer vets to resources like Clubhouse and for organizations to get reimbursed. 

Riddle says the move makes care more accessible. 

"Especially with a big focus on suicide prevention and then the things that go along with that and not having a good support network, the isolation and loneliness in general can just make for a hard, hard time," Riddle says.

Clubhouse is now open to veterans suffering from a range of issues. About half of veterans with a mental health condition don’t seek treatment.

Riddle says this model can be another option. 

"It doesn't have to be just for someone that ... has a chronic mental health condition," says Riddle, "It can be someone that's just having some depression, they're feeling depressed, they can't get out of the house. This is something that you can actually get out as tangible and just practice your recovery."

Riddle has reached out to other clubhouses in Indiana and beyond to increase referrals and make connections to assist other veterans.

At Circle City Clubhouse in Indianapolis, David Fearance is with his caregiver Kat Blane. She’s his cousin and legal guardian. 

Her family took him years ago and when her parents passed, she became his sole caregiver.

"Had it not been for the clubhouse, he probably would have been back in the nursing home," says Blane.

She says David has made great strides in his recovery after he started coming to clubhouse. 

"He can be home by himself if I have to be gone," says Blane, "I can say 'David here is your food,' and he knows how to get it. And all of that is from him being a part of the Circle City Club house."

She says as a caregiver that is invaluable. 

"That's helpful for me because I wouldn't be able to do all these things although I am retired and totally responsible. It always helps when you can get extra support," says Blane. 

The VA in Indianapolis is working to provide information to other clubhouses in Indiana and beyond about how they can connect with their local clubhouse to open up this option for more veterans.