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The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it has made significant progress in providing increased access to mental health care services for our nation’s veterans by hiring new mental health professionals.
Last year, Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced a goal to hire 1,600 new mental health clinical providers and 300 administrative support staff. The president’s Aug. 31, 2012, executive order requires the positions to be filled by June 30, 2013. As of Jan. 29, VA has hired 1,058 mental health clinical providers and 223 administrative support staff in support of this specific goal.
“We aren’t slowing down our efforts even after these initial positive results,” said Shinseki. “We still need to hire more mental health professionals in order to reach our goal, but each new hire means we can treat more veterans and provide greater access to our mental health services.”
Overall, VA has set aggressive goals to fill these new positions as well as existing and projected mental health vacancies within the VA system. As of Jan. 29, VA has hired a total of 3,262 mental health professionals and administrative support staff to serve Veterans since the goal was announced, which includes the new 1,058 mental health clinical providers and 223 administrative support staff. The mental health professionals hired include psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, mental health nurses, licensed professional mental health counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists, and addictions therapists.
VA provides a comprehensive system of high-quality mental health treatments and services to veterans. The department is utilizing many tools to recruit and retain one of the largest mental health care workforces in the nation to serve veterans better by providing enhanced services, expanded access, longer clinic hours, and increased telemental health capability to deliver services.
“Today, as veterans return home from missions in Afghanistan and those who previously returned from Iraq, it is imperative that we ensure they have access to timely, high-quality mental health care,” said Undersecretary for Health Dr. Robert A. Petzel. “The invisible scars of war follow them as they return from theater. It is our responsibility to identify these wounds, treat them and prevent the long-term physical, mental and social consequences of them.”
In accordance with the president’s executive order, VA has also completed hiring and training of additional staff to increase the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255, press 1) and phone lines have been increased by 50 percent. As of Dec. 31, 2012, the Veterans Crisis Line has received over 747,000 calls, over 83,000 chats, as well as over 5,000 texts, and has saved more than 26,000 veterans in imminent danger.
There are many veterans who are willing to seek treatment and to share their experiences with mental health issues when they share a common bond of duty, honor, and service with the provider. VA is in the process of hiring and training 800 Peer Specialists in the coming year. Additionally, VA has awarded a contract to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance to provide certification training for Peer Specialists. This peer staff is expected to all be hired by Dec. 31, 2013, and will work as members of mental health teams.
The number of veterans receiving specialized mental health treatment from VA has risen each year, from 927,052 in fiscal year (FY) 2006 to more than 1.3 million in FY 2012. One major reason for this increase is VA’s proactive screening of all veterans to identify those who may have symptoms of depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), problem use of alcohol or who have experienced military sexual trauma (MST).
Mental health care providers seeking opportunities to serve our nation’s veterans can find additional information about rewarding VA careers and apply for jobs online at www.vacareers.va.gov and www.usajobs.gov. To locate the nearest VA facility or Vet Center for enrollment and to get scheduled for care, veterans can visit VA’s website at www.va.gov.
For information on VA benefits, call or stop by the Archuleta County Veterans Service Office, located at the Senior Center in the Ross Aragon Community Center.
The office number is 264-4013, cell number is 946-3590, and e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Bring your DD Form 214 (Discharge) for applications to VA programs or benefits for which the veteran may be entitled to enroll.
The following veterans groups meet in Pagosa Springs:
American Legion Post 108: second Wednesday of the month, 7 p.m., 287 Hermosa St.
American Legion Post 108 Ladies Auxiliary: second Tuesday of the month at 4 p.m., 287 Hermosa St.
Veterans for Veterans: every Tuesday, 10 a.m., Quality Inn.
Women’s Group of Spouses of Veterans: every other Monday, 6 p.m., St. Patrick’s Episcopal Parish Hall, 225 S. Pagosa Blvd. Contact Charlotte, 731-1025.
Point Man Ministry (veterans): every Thursday, 9 a.m., Crossroad Church, 1044 Park Ave.