VA health system expands mental health care access
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Eric Shinseki, secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, often reminds us: As the tide of war recedes, we have the opportunity, and responsibility, to anticipate the needs of returning veterans.
As these newest veterans 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 in the number of veterans who received mental health services at VA. VA will add an additional 1,600 mental health staff professionals and an additional 300 support staff members nationwide, including 11 positions at the Iowa City VA Health Care System.
Efforts to hire more mental health professionals build on our record of service to veterans. President Obama, Secretary Shinseki and leaders of the Iowa City VA Health Care 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. We’ve increased the number of mental health staff members by 41 percent since 2007.
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’ve made great strides to expand mental health care access, we have much more work to do. Men and women who have had multiple deployments over a decade of combat have carried a tremendous burden for our country.
That’s why Secretary Shinseki has challenged the department to improve upon our progress and identify barriers preventing veterans from receiving timely treatment.
As we meet with veterans in the Iowa City VA coverage area, eastern Iowa and western Illinois, we learn firsthand what we need to do to improve access to care.
Secretary Shinseki has sought out the hardest-to-reach, most under-served places – from remote areas of Alaska to inner city Philadelphia – to hear directly from veterans and employees. We’re taking action to reach out to those who need mental health care instead of waiting for them to come to us.
Our mission is to increase access to our care and services. We’ve greatly increased the number of Veterans Readjustment Counseling Centers (Vet Centers) throughout the country and developed an extensive suicide prevention program that saves lives every day.
Our team at the Veteran Crisis Line has fielded more than 600,000 calls from veterans in need and helped rescue more than 21,000 veterans in immediate crisis. That’s 21,000 veterans who have been saved.
The mental health of America’s veterans not only touches those of us at VA and the Department of Defense, but also families, friends, co-workers and people in our communities. We ask that you urge veterans in your communities to reach out and connect with VA services.
To locate the nearest VA facility or Vet Center for enrollment and get scheduled for care, veterans can visit VA’s website at www.va.gov.
Immediate help is available at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net or by calling the crisis line at 800-273-8255 (push 1) or texting 838255.
Note to readers – Dawn Oxley
is the acting director
of the Iowa City VA Health Care System, which includes the Community-Based Outpatient Clinic at 406 Ave. C, Sterling. The local clinic’s phone number is 815-632-6200.
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