The Departments of Veterans Affairs, Defense and Health and Human Services are working hard every day to implement the president’s Aug. 31, 2012, executive order by removing barriers, improving access and investing in research to improve the science and understanding of mental health care and treatment for Veterans, Servicemembers and their families.
As part of the efforts related to this executive order, VA has hired more than 1,600 new clinicians and over 800 peer specialists, bringing its total mental health staff to more than 20,000. VA has also increased the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line by more than 50 percent. In a related effort, DoD has hired more than 9,400 mental health professionals, launched the largest study of mental health risk and resilience ever conducted among military personnel and expanded the Military Crisis Line to Europe, Afghanistan and Korea. DoD has also added over 10,000 mental health providers in the TRICARE purchased care network and embedded mental health professionals into our military treatment facility primary care settings.
VA, DoD and HHS have jointly implemented a national suicide prevention campaign to connect Veterans and Servicemembers with evidence-based mental health and substance use treatment resources. VA has worked with community clinics to expand the number of locations where Veterans can receive mental health treatment and has hosted 152 summits across the United States in the past year to increase collaboration and coordination with resources in the community that support our nation’s Veterans.
HHS worked closely with the VA to implement community pilots to increase or supplement VA capacity in geographical areas where VA facilities are not located close by. Likewise, HHS has now brought together teams from 46 states, four territories and the District of Columbia in policy academies to develop and implement plans to ensure timely access to and quality of the behavioral health needs for military service personnel, Veterans and their families.
Our agencies have also worked closely together to begin implementation of a National Research Action Plan to inform federal research in post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other critical behavioral health issues. Through the cutting-edge research that will support this plan, we will gain answers to the crucial questions about how best to prevent and treat conditions related to mental health and traumatic brain injury.
The new Cross Agency Priority goal recently announced builds on these efforts and expands our focus in order to find new ways to further:
- Reduce barriers to seeking care
- Enhance access to and improve the quality of mental health care
- Support innovative research on mental health and substance use care and treatment.
Only by working together can we continue to fulfill the president’s commitment to those who serve and support our country, and the administration will continue to ensure a spotlight remains on these important public health issues. We know that treatment works, and with effective mental health and substance use treatment, we can meet the mental health needs of Veterans, Servicemembers and their families.
Dr. Robert Petzel is VA’s Undersecretary for Health; Dr. Jonathan Woodson is Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs; and Pam Hyde is the administrator, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.