Recovery support for victims of mass violence is a unique challenge for VB Strong Center professionals

Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital (Southside Daily/Courtesy of Sentara)
Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital (Southside Daily/Courtesy of Sentara)

VIRGINIA BEACH — The new VB Strong Center at Landstown Commons is tentatively scheduled to open in October to support recovery for “mass violence victims,” a subgroup Danielle Progen, an emergency planner in the city’s Office of Emergency Management, said is still “nuanced.”

Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital was tapped to manage and operate the center and recently organized a successful hiring event to recruit specialized staffing for services, including mental health counseling, facilitated gatherings and support groups, alternative therapies, and support specific to trauma suffered by first responders.

“What we’ve heard through the Department of Justice is really that we need to generate a feeling of togetherness,” Progen said. “We need to try to provide as many opportunities as possible for people to be together who’ve experienced this.”

Progen noted the unique challenge professionals in the center will face as support for this type of recovery is still new, but said the department is working to set up community-provider training for Sentara staff and residents to learn “what it means to provide support following a mass violence incident.”

The center’s initial $3 million grant comes from the Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program through the United States Department of Justice Office of Victims of Crime, which defined the “victims” eligible to receive free one-on-one support services at the VB Strong Center.

“Everyone in Building 2 are being considered victims by the Department of Justice and so are those in the immediate area of the building who could see or hear what was going on,” she said. “As well as emergency operations staff, first responders, and staff who work at family reunification centers.”

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Progen noted, even without meeting the criteria to be defined as a “victim” center staff won’t turn anyone away.

“If they’re not included in that ‘victim’ definition they are welcome to everything that is not one-on-one based,” she said.

Another “core service” Progen said will be offered is navigation and case management to refer victims for services and resources they need in the community.

As Councilman Aaron Rouse pointed out, the grant will not cover services received outside of the VB Strong Center but should be covered by victims’ own health insurance, workers compensation, or the Virginia Victims Fund.

Opening a long-term recovery center is a best practice and something that can be modeled after cities like Las Vegas and Orlando who have experienced acts of mass violence Progen said.

Additional funding from the Department of Justice grant is based “needs assessments” as it relates to victims and will end after three years when city leaders can decide to either take over the funding or close the center.

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