At VA, and in communities across our grateful nation, we are all committed to the health and well-being of the men and women who have served in uniform and their families. The invisible wounds of war follow our Veterans as they return, and it is our responsibility to proactively engage Veterans and promote their recovery.
We at VA don’t just treat post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression, or substance abuse. We treat complex human beings, and we help them reintegrate into a life of family and community. Last year, more than 1.3 million Veterans received specialized mental health care from the VA.
On June 3, VA announced it had hired more than 1,600 additional mental health clinical providers to expand Veterans’ access to high quality mental health services and meet the goal outlined in the President’s Executive Order. While VA has been expanding its mental health resources, we recognize that we cannot meet all the needs and challenges alone — we must collaborate and partner with other federal agencies, community based organizations, health care providers, Veteran Service Organizations, and local governments.
Last month, President Obama directed all 152 VA medical centers nationwide to host Community Mental Health Summits. These summits will promote awareness and utilization of VA mental health resources, help Veterans gain access to community services, and build healthy communities for Veterans and their families. I’m pleased to report that our Summits will begin this month and our facilities are eager to host these summits in ways that will be meaningful for the participants.
Hosting these summits will give each of our medical centers a chance to sit at the same table with community partners – to listen to each other, to learn from each other and to build trust. Some communities are already working well together. They are meeting regularly, keeping each other informed, and coordinating services. Other communities have wonderful individual programs, but they are operating in isolation. All communities can do more and will benefit from the opportunities that these summits provide to bring everyone together. We expect to learn some valuable lessons from the summits and our ultimate goal is sustained collaboration with our community partners.
Meeting the mental health needs of Veterans and their families is a mission we all share, as a community and as a nation. These summits will help us work closely with our community partners to ensure Veterans receive the care they have earned and deserve.
Dr. Robert Petzel is the Under Secretary for Health at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.