According to VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention (OMHSP), more than 60,000 Veterans died by suicide in the last decade. For those of us who serve our nation’s Veterans, that number is more than a statistic – it is a reminder that failing to address mental health needs carries real and tragic consequences.
OMHSP highlights that mental health challenges and suicide are affected by many factors, including lower income, unemployment and reduced social connection. Many of these factors are also prominent in rural communities, where Veterans have a 20% higher suicide rate than their urban counterparts.
Pilot pivots to FARMS
To address these and other challenges, in 2018 Congress directed VA to create a pilot program that provides Veterans with agricultural vocational training and mental health care services from licensed providers.
In response, VA’s Office of Rural Health (ORH) partnered with several VA program offices to establish the VA Farming and Recovery Mental Health Services (VA FARMS) program at nine designated VA medical centers.
VA FARMS uses agritherapy, an approach that incorporates mental health care and services with agricultural vocational training, to support Veterans’ behavioral and mental health needs. ORH partners with a variety of stakeholders, including non-profit organizations, academic organizations and state governments to offer these services to rural Veterans.
By providing occupational skills, social connection and clinical care, VA FARMS addresses several of the factors that impact rural Veterans’ overall well-being.
You can learn more about the VA FARMS program by watching the video below. We also encourage you to visit our website at http://www.ruralhealth.va.gov/ to learn more about how ORH programs support the health of rural Veterans nationwide.
Thomas Klobucar, Ph.D., is the Executive Director for VA’s Office of Rural Health