Christopher Zenishek


Addressing the Escalating Demand for Mental Health Services Among Veterans using Collaborative Approaches within the Veterans Health Administration


This presentation addresses the critical issue of delays in accessing mental health care for Veterans within the VA healthcare system. Despite the identification of mental health concerns by other clinics, Veterans are often referred to the behavioral health (BH) department without immediate assessment or consideration of psychotropic medication. Consequently, Veterans may endure prolonged suffering, with wait times for appointments exceeding three weeks and the slow onset of symptom alleviation with psychotropics potentially extending the period to nearly four months. This automatic referral process delays initial and continued BH treatment, highlighting the urgent need for improvement. To address this challenge, Primary Care Mental Health Integration (PCMHI) is implementing a streamlined approach that serves as a vital resource for engaging Veterans with mild to moderate symptoms during primary care appointments, potentially averting the need for BH referral. By coordinating consults between departments and facilitating warm handoffs from primary care providers to PCMHI providers, we aim to ensure timely engagement with BH treatment. Starting March 1st, 2024, all BH consults from other departments will be received and reviewed by PCMHI providers, who will then conduct assessments and schedule appointments accordingly. This process not only improves clinic efficiency but also enhances Veteran treatment outcomes by providing immediate access to mental health care and personalized treatment plans. Through collaboration and innovation, the VA can address the systemic challenges in Veteran mental health care delivery and ensure that every Veteran receives the timely and effective care they deserve.


Christopher Zenishek, LSCSW, is a dedicated professional in social work, currently pursuing his Doctor of Social Work at the University of Kentucky. With a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Wichita State University, he has honed his expertise through diverse experiences. Zenishek holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Administration from Kansas State University and is licensed by the Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board as an LSCSW. He has acquired certifications in various Evidence-Based Therapies, including specialized Cognitive Behavioral Therapies to Social Skills Training for patients with schizophrenia.

For nearly two decades, Zenishek has been an integral part of the Behavioral Health team at the Robert J. Dole Veterans Administration in Wichita, KS. As the Manager of Primary Care Mental Health Integration, he oversees the mental health services being integrated into primary care, providing supervision, therapy, and strategic leadership where administration and behavioral health expertise intertwine.

Zenishek is currently implementing a novel approach to providing immediate behavioral health treatment for any identified Veteran with a mental health concern at the VA Medical Center. This initiative is part of his Capstone project for the doctoral program and is being finalized for publication consideration. His dedication to service extends to his military experience as a Combat Photographer in the United States Marine Corps, enriching his approach to social work and connection with the Veteran population. A member of various professional organizations, including NASW and KNASW, Zenishek embodies excellence and compassion in his commitment to improving the well-being of Veterans and their families.