CUMBERLAND — Nearly 150 Maryland and West Virginia veterans are being given a reprieve — and permission to see the mental health care provider of their choice.

On Wednesday, Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Clinic officials said that the primary objective of the clinic’s initiative to redirect care to the VA from Re-Entry Associates Inc. to the Cumberland Outpatient Clinic was to ensure continuity of care.

But in the end, the passion of the patients — many of whom suffer from post traumatic stress disorder — won the right to continue that care at Re-Entry. Now, those veterans, including 55 from West Virginia and about 94 in Maryland, can choose to be seen at Re-Entry, the outpatient clinic or both.

“Basically, we’ve listened to their concerns,” said Dr. John Sentell, chief of VAMC’s Mental Health Service. “Part of our idea of quality is customer satisfaction. They just didn’t seem real satisfied. They wanted more choice. We’re trying to give them that.”

Veterans had protested a recent decision by VAMC officials to move their mental health services from Re-Entry to the Cumberland Outpatient Clinic.

They told VAMC officials they preferred the level of care and concern offered by Peggy and Irene Melotti and Re-Entry’s staff on North Centre Street. Last week, VAMC officials withdrew that mandate and said they were reconsidering the issue.

Sentell stood by clinical psychologist Dr. Paul McCusker’s ability to handle the influx of new patients at the outpatient clinic, calling him “an outstanding clinician, very seasoned.” Sentell also said a handful of the veterans are patients at the outpatient clinic and Re-Entry.

“The vast majority of them are fairly satisfied with what’s going on,” Sentell said.

Sentell said the letters veterans recently received had given them an April or May appointment to see McCusker. He plans to ask veterans to keep those appointments and then make their choice regarding their mental health services.

McCoole resident Don Casteel, who spent 14 months in Vietnam, said he was happy at the outcome and hopes the VA keeps its new promise.

“Well, I think that’s really great,” Casteel said. “That’s everything we wanted. While the VA has been good, they’ve never even been close to what Re-Entry is. They just treat you like family, more or less.”

Casteel said he never has had a problem receiving medical services at the Cumberland clinic. He, along with a number of area veterans, questioned whether the outpatient clinic could handle such a large number of new patients.

Sentell said VAMC is working to reach an agreement with the outpatient clinic and Re-Entry. He hopes that agreement is finalized soon. At that point, veterans will be notified of the situation and be asked to choose one or both of the mental health service providers.

Until that agreement is reached, he said veterans will continue to receive mental health services at their current location.

“This truly makes it a good Thanksgiving for a lot of people,” Peggy Melotti said. “It seems like a win-win situation.

The tentative agreement allows Melotti to keep Re-Entry running, she said. The veterans don’t make up a large part of her clientele — they comprise all of it. She also has a VA contract for “readjustment” counseling. That work is temporary, however, as veterans under that program receive treatment for a maximum of one year.

Melotti said she had spoken with her accountant earlier this week about cutting back “to a shoestring budget” if she lost the ability to provide mental health services to combat veterans.

Contact Kevin Spradlin at kspradlin@times-news.com.

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