Executive Order Calls for New Recommendations on Veterans’ Mental Health Issues
By Keiana Smith-McDowell, NAMI Communications Intern
| (Photo: The U.S. Army - Flickr)|
Recommendations on strategies to improve the mental and substance abuse treatment for veterans, service members and their families were discussed with the Interagency Task Force on Military and Veterans Mental Health in a meeting this February.
The meeting was the result of an executive order President Obama signed in August 2012 urging the federal government to outline a plan of action to better assist veterans and their families especially after deployment.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 2 million service men and women have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a press release by the Department of Defense, 26 potential suicides occurred among active-duty soldiers in the Army in July 2012. Seventy-one potential non active duty (National Army Guard and Army Reserve) were reported for the year 2012 as well.
In the past 12 years, roughly 18 to 22 Veterans died from suicide each day. These alarming numbers pressed President Obama to step in and take action.
Jean Moore, Manager of Military and Veterans Policy and Support at NAMI attended the meeting.
“I welcomed the opportunity to meet with the White House Task Force. Gathering information from those on the ground is always important when developing national strategies,” Moore said.
Moore added, “With respect to the President's executive order, however, it would have been nice to have received a briefing on accomplishments to date.”
Key elements outlined to promote coalition building as well as service member’s transition into civilian life include and are not limited to:
- Suicide prevention: Expanding the veteran’s crisis line by 50 percent to ensure veterans have timely access including telephone, text, and/or online chat services to medical and mental illness help professionals.
- A national suicide prevention campaign.
- Increasing and providing the best mental health and substance abuse education, outreach, and support to servicemen and their families.
- Increasing the number of Department of Veterans Affairs mental health providers by June 30, 2013.
- Eight hundred peer to peer counselors to empower veterans support.
- The National Research Action Plan to understand posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
President Obama pressed that the mission of member agencies working alongside the task force is to labor collaboratively on these strategies and also create inventory of mental health and substance abuse programs and activities to inform this work.
NAMI is also working diligently to expand education and offer support to mental illness involving veterans and service members. NAMI plans to redevelop the existing Web-based veteran and military resource center to include relevant and interactive information, reaching out and partnering with agencies like the Defense Centers of Excellence and Veterans Affairs who have a wealth of information to share, and promoting NAMI's signature program while advocating from within for more veteran targeted programs.
“Collaboration is key,” said Moore. “We want to work to increase the collaboration amongst other stakeholders to help meet the mental health needs of veterans and military.”
In the executive order, President Obama presented the task force a timeline of 180 days to send recommendations. On Feb. 2, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs sent out a news release announcing they had made significant progress in providing mental health care services. In compliance with President Obama's orders, as of Jan. 29 the VA has hired 1,058 mental health clinical providers as well as 223 administrative support staff members.
The executive order calls for 1,600 metal health clinical providers and 300 administrative members to be hired by June 30, 2013.
The VA has also hired more staff to assist with the Veterans Crisis Line as made specific in the executive order.
Moore believes the first step is working to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.
“Fear is immobilizing. Many of the barriers associated with the lack of access to mental health care are due to a lack of understanding. Forward movement requires more people to demonstrate care, respect and empathy for the 1 percent of people who fight for our liberties and freedom,” said Moore.