Mental Health Resources for Vets and Soldiers Receive Boost from Presidential Order

Shortly before the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, President Obama issued an order intended to greatly increase the availability of mental health services to U.S. soldiers and veterans of the post-9/11 era.

With the number of post-9/11 soldiers and vets at more than 2 million and growing, and with so many veterans having endured long and repeated overseas tours of duty under hostile conditions, Executive Order 13625 acknowledges that there will be an ongoing need for expanded diagnosis and treatment programs to address vets’ emotional and psychological health.

The Order focused in part on three of the most important mental health issues for veterans – suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse.

As a result of Order 13625, a national suicide prevention campaign aimed at veterans and service members launched this month. The campaign will be conducted jointly by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. For the first time since 2009, the Army declared a worldwide stand down to focus on suicide prevention among its soldiers. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III ordered the Sept. 27 stand down, asserting that “Suicide is the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the Army,” but also confidently stating that he believes that military suicides are preventable.

The VA has also been instructed to increase the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line by 50 percent by the end of the year, in an effort to make sure that any potentially suicidal vet who calls will be connected with a qualified mental health responder within 24 hours.

The DOD, meanwhile, will be reviewing its substance abuse prevention and outreach programs to determine which of its efforts are most effective, with the goal of making sure that the best substance abuse programs are rolled out across all branches of the service by the end of 2014. Resources will be shifted from less effective substance abuse programs as they are phased out.

Order 13625 also calls for the VA to hire 1,600 additional mental health professionals by June 2013, and to hire and train 800 veteran peer counselors by December 2013. As another way to address chronic understaffing of VA mental health facilities, at least 15 pilot projects will be set up to experiment with partnerships between the VA and existing community health providers.

The DOD and the VA together will also begin funding more research into PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI), which are often described as the two “signature” injuries of the cohort of soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan in the post-9/11 era. By the end of the year, at least 100,000 service members are to be enrolled in a program aimed at improving prevention, diagnosis and treatment of PTSD, TBI and related injuries through a long-term study.

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