George Mason University’s Center for Psychological Services, a clinic dedicated to training graduate students and providing evidence-based and accessible services for the community, works closely with lawyers and provides psychological evaluations to veterans, helping to determine if their cases of post-traumatic stress disorder came from military service.
By collaborating with the Virginia Department of Veterans Services (DVS), the center received a grant from Dominion Energy to cover the cost of evaluations for 35 veterans over the next year. They have also partnered with the Residence Inn in Fairfax, Virginia, for a reduced hotel rate so veterans from all over the state can spend the night to complete the evaluations over two days. The six- to eight-hour evaluations would cost $3,000 or more, according to clinic director Robyn Mehlenbeck, but Mason’s price is $1,500.
“Our hope is that we will continue to provide these critical services for our veterans and that this is the first of many years for this partnership,” said Mehlenbeck.
Mehlenbeck called the partnership a win-win. She said doctoral students are getting experience in evaluation while also providing veterans with much needed help, all under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. The goal, said Mehlenbeck, is to help the veteran no matter the outcome of the evaluation. The final report the lawyers receive provides recommendations for any treatment the clinic finds necessary.
“They know this evaluation is to help them,” said Mehlenbeck. “But at the same time it's really hard, especially when there is post-traumatic stress, to go over your story again and again.”
If a veteran needs treatment or therapy, DVS is often willing to help pay for that as well. They determine the cost based on a sliding scale of need. Even at the highest cost, treatment at the center is still half of what it would cost elsewhere.
Sarah Giff is a fourth-year clinical psychology doctoral student whose work is focused on military families and how PTSD or other traumatic incidents can impact romantic and family relationships. She is one of a number of students working at the center who specialize in working with veterans and military populations.
She said the center’s work is important because of the strong stigma in military culture against asking for help for mental health-related issues.
"Asking for help I think is very difficult, and it’s been powerful to be on the other side of that, and to be affirming of people reaching out for support,” said Giff. “It's been a very rewarding part of [the program]."