The Yountville veterans program attacked last week by a gunman announced Wednesday that it will suspend operations indefinitely, a wrenching move made after its executive director and two clinicians who worked with combat-stressed veterans in the program were shot and killed Friday.
Spokesman Larry Kamer said the board of directors for The Pathway Home is still exploring options that would continue its mission to provide mental health and wellness support to traumatized veterans who need help returning to civilian life.
The indefinite closure of operations of its facility at the Veterans Home of California followed Friday’s deadly shooting by a former Army infantryman who just two weeks prior was under treatment at the center. He also died in the attack. Authorities have yet to clarify if he died by suicide or as a result of an exchange of gunfire with a Napa sheriff’s deputy.
The bullet-riddled building that housed the program remains a crime scene, and there are questions “about whether people will feel comfortable living there and working there,” Kamer said.
The agency also has lost its “core clinical team.” The three women staff members killed in the attack were Executive Director Christine Loeber, 48, Dr. Jennifer Golick, 42, a therapist with the program, and Dr. Jennifer Gonzales Shushereba, 32, a psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System. She was more than six months pregnant.
Even if The Pathway Home finds some way to resume helping veterans, “the program, at least as we knew it — the residential program in Madison Hall — would not be continuing,” Kamer said.
More than 450 veterans with a range of post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and other issues had been treated by the 10-year-old nonprofit, which gained early, national recognition for an innovative, holistic approach to treatment that combined intensive therapy with music, art, yoga, acupuncture and a range of other specialties, as well as purposeful engagement and interaction with a community that embraced program participants, founder and former executive director Fred Gusman said.
The unique program hosted veterans who had tried and failed elsewhere in their effort to successfully transition to civilian life after war, and graduates often credited the program for saving their lives. But many participants were extremely challenging, capable of retreating into dark places as they struggled “with their own life and death issues,” Gusman said.
Continued funding challenges shuttered the program in 2015, however, and the staff dispersed after graduating its final class. Not until 2017 did the nonprofit begin welcoming clients again under new leadership provided by Loeber.
The revamped program focused on providing wraparound mental health services and case management to veterans of post 9/11 conflicts who needed support pursuing higher education at Napa Valley College and elsewhere, or completing vocational programs.
Unlike the original, intensive treatment program, the idea was to provide early intervention before individual participants reached crisis point — “before they’re dealing with substance abuse, or suicidal thoughts or life on the street or some of the other terrible things that happen to our vets if they don’t get care,” Kamer said.
The program had six remaining clients after Albert Cheung Wong’s departure, most or all of whom were present at a going-away party for two staff members when Wong — dressed in black and heavily armed with a band of ammunition around his neck — arrived at the nonprofit headquarters Friday morning and took hostage the three women he would later kill.