Help Available for Returning Veterans
by Jeffrey Gering
North County Times, June 23, 2012
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki often reminds us: as the tide of war recedes we have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to anticipate the needs of returning veterans. As these newest veterans return home, we must ensure that 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 in the number of veterans who received mental health services at VA.
That’s why we recently announced that VA will add an additional 1,600 mental health staff professionals and an additional 300 support staff members nationwide, including 37 in San Diego.
These efforts to hire more mental health professionals build on our record of service to veterans. President Barack Obama, Shinseki and the leaders of VA San Diego Healthcare System have devoted more people, programs and resources to Veteran mental health services.
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 today, we have a team of professionals that’s 20,590 strong —- all dedicated to providing much-needed direct mental health treatment to veterans.
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 over a decade of combat have carried a tremendous burden for our country.
That’s why Shinseki has challenged the department to improve upon our progress and identify barriers that prevent veterans from receiving timely treatment. As we meet with veterans here in San Diego, we learn firsthand what we need to do to improve access to care.
Shinseki has sought out the hardest-to-reach, most underserved places —- from the remote areas of Alaska to inner-city Philadelphia —- to hear directly from veterans and employees. And we’re taking action to reach out to those who need mental health care instead of waiting for them to come to us.
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