More About Dr. Paul Errera

Paul Errera, M.D. gave a lifetime of outstanding service to our country.  He was born in Brussels, Belgium in 1928.  He came to the United States in 1939 as a sixth grader to escape the dangers of Nazism.  He graduated from Harvard College in 1949, attended Columbia University Medical School from 1949 to 1951, and graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1953. 

 

Dr. Errera began his career with the VA as a first year resident in psychiatry at the West Haven, Connecticut VA Medical Center. His brilliant career came full circle when he returned to the VA in West Haven, at the Errera Community Care Center (ECCC), appropriately named in his honor.  It is no surprise that the ECCC is one of the nations leading facilities for the treatment of veterans recovering from mental illness, substance abuse and/or homelessness.  Along the way, Dr. Errera served as the Chief of Psychiatry for fifteen years at the VA Medical Center in West Haven, where he fostered a commitment to excellence in clinical care, education and spearheaded the development of psychosocial rehabilitation.  

 

In addition to his work in Connecticut, beginning in 1985, Dr. Errera spent nearly a decade in Washington, D.C. as Director of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences in VA Central office. In that role, he was charged with the oversight of 172 VA hospitals across the country delivering mental health services to more than 6000,000 veterans each year.   While at VA Central Office, Dr. Errera was driven in his pursuit of fair treatment for those who had suffered in the service of our country.  He became expert in the complex world of Washington politics and used that expertise to advance the cause of our veterans who were battling mental illness, substance abuse and/or homelessness.  During his years in Washington, Dr. Errera led a new approach to the innovation of mental health programs in the VA.  He emphasized outreach to veterans with the most severe problems: to homeless veterans with severe mental illness, to veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who were sometimes fearful of seeking help from VA, to veterans with severe addictions, as well as veterans with severe and persistent mental illness who were dependant on institutional care.  His programs emphasized delivery of care in natural community setting, close collaboration with community providers, improved access to housing and jobs, and intensive case management.  There are now more than 900 Programs operating in the VA systems which grew out of the initiatives he directed – programs that have reached out to more than 250,000 homeless veterans in the past decade and that provide residential support, employment and case management to veterans with exceptional needs across the country.

 

Notably, the programs Dr. Errera initiated were characterized by high degrees of accountability to assure that programs were implemented as intended, that they achieved the desired outcomes, and that scarce public resources were used efficiently and effectively.  He insisted on full and candid disclosure of program performance to veterans’ advocates, VA officials, the Congress, and the public at large, and encouraged unimpeded access to information on both the successes and the failures of the programs he initiated. 

 

Dr. Errera’s passionate concern for the plight of the mentally ill is best illustrated by his own words when Dr. Errera testified before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health on May 6, 2003:

 

“Our society has conflicted responses to the mentally ill.  It is more comfortable when dealing with traditional medical or surgical symptomatology.  Broken bones, heart disease, shrapnel wounds, infections – such symptoms get the therapeutic attention and resources that are required.  However, when it comes to lack of housing and paralyzing fears, horrendous nightmares, depression, hallucinations, addictions, delusions – all possible aspects of mental illness – for these, we as a society are less compassionate, less likely to provide the necessary treatment and support options and more likely to denigrate or even ridicule the afflicted persons.

 

We bring flowers to the bedside of medical and surgical patients – why not for the psychiatric.  We raise our voices before the legislature for the paralyzed, the blind and others physically disabled – much more hesitantly for the mentally ill.

 

As patients, we brag about our successful operation and the infection that has been subdued – not so for the hallucinations and delusions that have become less intrusive. We are proud of our good surgeon, our effective internist.  We only whisper hesitantly to our closest confidant the name of our psychiatrist.

 

All of which reflects our discomfort with mental illness – providers as well as consumers -- and, hence, underscores the need for legislative support to assist those whose very disease makes them less likely to be offered help as well as less able to help themselves and may lead some of them into homelessness.”

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In a career that spanned more than half a century, Dr. Paul Errera demonstrated a unique commitment to our nation’s veterans and the quality of care they receive.  Throughout his tenure, Dr. Errera was a visionary leader, stimulating fundamental change in the way mental health care is delivered.  He played an integral role in the development and implementation of innovative, community-based programs to meet the diverse mental health treatment needs of veterans.  Dr. Errera’s commitment and diligence had a dramatic impact on the VA’s treatment of its mentally ill patients—effectively changing the face of their approach and service to many of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens. 

 

Dr. Errera attributed his dedication to the historic role the United States played in twice freeing his homeland of Belgium—believing that the citizens of Belgium owe a great debt to the brave men and women who liberated his native country.


 In our nation’s effort to provide the best possible care to our veterans, Dr. Errera, with his unparalleled record of service to the veterans of this country, set a new standard for us all to strive to achieve.  Through his infinite good work he made a real difference in the lives of many U. S. veterans and for that we owe him a great debt of gratitude.  
 
 

While the contents of this site have been developed in cooperation with VA personnel, it is not an official site of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

 
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