From the Arizona Republic
by Sharon M. Helman
During June, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the nation recognize national PTSD Awareness Month. We are taking time to focus on post-traumatic stress disorder and the other mental-health needs of our veterans.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki often reminds us that as the tide of war recedes, we have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to anticipate the needs of our returning veterans. As they return home, we must ensure they have access to quality mental-health care in order to successfully make this transition to civilian life.
Last year, VA provided specialty mental-health services to more than 1.3 million veterans — a 35 percent increase since 2007. That’s why we recently announced VA will add an additional 1,600 mental-health staff professionals and an additional 300 support-staff members nationwide, including 16 at the Phoenix VA Health Care System.
These efforts to hire more mental-health professionals build on our nationwide record of service to veterans. VA has increased the mental-health-care budget by 39 percent since 2009.
What’s more, we’ve increased the number of mental-health staff members by 41 percent since 2007. That means that today, we have a nationwide team of professionals who are 20,590 strong.
While we have made great strides to expand mental-health-care access, we have much more work to do. The men and women, who have had multiple deployments from our recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, have carried a tremendous burden for our country.
Secretary Shinseki has challenged each of us as VA leaders to improve our progress and identify barriers that prevent veterans from receiving timely treatment.
As we meet with veterans in Phoenix and we offer them our signature evidence-based therapies to treat health issues such as PTSD, we learn firsthand what we need to do to improve access to care and to offer the best care possible.
In addition to our focus on PTSD, we also look to other mental-health issues such as substance abuse, homelessness, anxiety disorder, depression and the saddest of all, suicide. Our team at the nationwide Veterans Crisis Line has fielded more than 600,000 calls from veterans in need and helped rescue more than 21,000 veterans who were in immediate crisis. That’s 21,000 veterans who have been saved.
As a health-care CEO who has witnessed the way we can change veterans’ lives for the better, I hope you will join me in encouraging all of our nation’s veterans to remember that VA is here for them. It’s a benefit they’ve earned. We are honored to welcome them home.