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Yesterday, at the White House, we hosted the first-ever Veterans and Military Family Mental Health Conference, bringing together Administration leaders, Veteran Service Organizations, military service organizations, nonprofit and nongovernment organizations along with mental health professionals, and leaders from the Departments of Defense and Veteran Affairs. This event served as a precursor to the 152 Department of Veterans Affairs’ Mental Health Summits convening across the country in an effort to continue this conversation at a local level.
The Administration is committed to raising awareness and improving care for Veterans and military family members in need. Last summer, President Obama signed an Executive Order focused on military and veteran mental health, calling upon the government to increase awareness, build treatment capacity, invest in research, and significantly increase access to mental health care.
In 2012, more than 1.3 million Veterans received specialized mental health care from the VA. Based on this growing need, the VA is continuing to hire more mental health professionals and expand the use of innovative technology to serve Veterans in both urban and in rural or underserved areas. For instance, the Department of Defense’s Military Family Life Consultant program provides over 6 million counseling sessions per year to service members and their families throughout the deployment cycle. As a former battalion commander, I know first-hand the value that this special group of providers brings to our military. Similarly, the Veterans Crisis Line, highlighted at yesterday’s event, continues to be a life-saving resource for our nation’s veterans.
Advancing care is not something the government can do alone. Active collaboration and coordination with partners in the community is critical to ensuring all the men and women who served our country and their families have the care they need and deserve. That’s why yesterday’s Conference participants specifically focused on the Mental Health Summits which the VA will hold across the country to localize our efforts. Mental Health Summits bring together community partners, including local government officials, community-based organizations, and Veteran Service Organizations. These Mental Health Summits will continue to build upon existing collaborative efforts with community providers and further enhance access to mental health and well-being services for Veterans and their families.
Conference participants also discussed best practices for partnerships, the health and mental needs of military children, and the unique role Veterans Service Organizations, NGOs, and medical associations and community providers play in addressing these particular needs.
While yesterday’s discussion marks the start of Mental Health Summits across the country, there is still a long road ahead to reach the outcomes we seek and veterans and families deserve.
The First Lady often says, “We have the capacity to redefine what it means to be a grateful nation – that we honor and respect those who serve our country, not just while they’re in uniform, but also when they come home and for the rest of their lives.” I hope you’ll join us in that effort.
Colonel Rich Morales is Executive Director of Joining Forces