Story by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kayla Jo Finley, Defense Media Activity
Recently the Department of Defense (DoD), Veterans Affairs (VA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the progress made on initiatives created from President Obama’s Executive Order to Improve Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans, Service Members and their families.
Since August 31, 2012, when the initiative was affirmed several steps have been made to improve mental health services. These steps include:
-Strengthening suicide prevention efforts across the Force and in the Veteran community;
-Enhancing access to mental health care by building partnership between the VA and community providers;
-Increasing the number of VA mental health providers serving our veterans;
-Promoting mental health research and development of more effective treatment methodologies.
“We have made strong progress to expand veterans’ access to quality mental health services, and President Obama has challenged us to do even more,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “Our ongoing, joint efforts reflect our commitment to the health and well-being of the men and women who have served the nation.”
The interim report from the Federal Departments provides a summarization that outlines the progress made on the initiative, including:
Suicide Prevention: In a year-long effort that began September 1, 2012, VA increased the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) by 50%. When in a crisis, the VCL allows veterans and their families to connect with a qualified VA responder through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat or text. Support is provided 24 hours a day, every day a year. As of March 2013, the VCL has received over 814,000 calls; over 94,000 chats; as well as over 7,200 texts; and has helped more than 28,000 veterans in imminent danger.
Enhanced Partnerships between the VA and Community Providers: The VA and HHS worked together to help identify potential local community partners to improve Veterans access to mental health services. Mental health care access has enhanced by the establishment of 15 VA pilot agreements with clinics in local communities to improve access to mental health services.
Expanded VA Mental Health Staffing: The VA has hired 1,058 mental health clinical providers, with the goal of 1,600 mental health professionals, and over 100 peer specialists with the total goal of 800. Additionally the VA has developed and implemented an aggressive recruitment and marketing effort to fill positions, specifically in mental health and substance abuse occupations.
Improved Research and Development: The National Research Action Plan was developed to better understand and develop treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and co-occurring conditions. Additionally, The identification of strategies to support collaborative research efforts to address suicide prevention is underway.
Following the Executive Order to Improve Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans, Service Members and their families, the departments will continue to expand the public health approach to providing optimal support for mental health needs.
“There’s no more important work than taking care of those who protect our nation,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “By working together, we can make sure our service men and women, our veterans, and their families have the behavioral health services they need to build healthy and fulfilling lives.”
The complete interim report can be found at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/2013_interim_report_of_the_interagency_task_force_on_military_and_veterans_mental_health.pdf
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