FACT SHEET: VA Vet Centers and Administration Progress on Mental Health
Vet Centers are community-based counseling centers that provide a wide range of social and psychological services including professional readjustment counseling to Veterans and active duty Servicemembers (including members of the National Guard and Reserve components) and their families.
A core value of the Vet Center program is to promote access to care by helping Veterans, Servicemembers, and their families overcome barriers that impede them from using those services. For example, all Vet Centers maintain regularly scheduled non-traditional hours, such as evening and weekends, to ensure Veterans and Servicemembers are able to access these services. Also, Vet Centers are able to create Veteran-to-Veteran connections, as over 72% of Vet Center staff are Veterans and a majority of those individuals have served in combat zones.
There are 300 Vet Centers located in every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, and Puerto Rico.
In addition, Readjustment Counseling Services maintains a fleet of 80 Mobile Vet Centers that are designed to extend the reach of Vet Center services through focused outreach, direct service provision, and referral to communities that do not meet the requirements for a “brick and mortar” Vet Center, but where there are Veterans, Servicemembers, and their families in need of services. In many instances these communities are distant from existing services and are considered rural or highly rural.
- All services are available without time limitation and at no cost.
- To use Vet Center services, Veterans or Servicemembers:
- Do not need to be enrolled with the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) Medical Centers;
- Do not need a disability rating or service connection for injuries from either the VA or the Department of Defense, and;
- Can access Vet Center services regardless of discharge character.
- No information will be released to any person or agency without the written consent from the Veteran or Servicemember, except in circumstances averting a crisis.
BUILDING ON PROGRESS
Mental health issues among our veterans, Servicemembers, and their families cannot be ignored, and we all have an obligation to do better to ensure that they receive the care that they need and deserve. The Administration continues to take action to improve the mental health of Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families. Most recently, the VA and DoD took two significant steps to help Servicemembers as they transition from active duty.
- To ensure that Servicemembers receiving mental health care are connected to mental health professionals as they transition to the VA or a community provider, on April 1, 2015 the DoD changed its inTransition program so that all Servicemembers who have seen a behavioral health provider within one year of separation from Active Duty are automatically enrolled in the program and contacted by an inTransition coach. inTransition is a confidential coaching program that answers questions about treatment options, provides information about community resources, and secures an appointment with a behavioral health provider for Servicemembers transitioning between providers or systems. It used to be the case that a Service member had to proactively opt in to receive this transition assistance.
- In February, the VA issued a revised policy to ensure that Servicemembers transitioning to the VA are able to maintain access to mental health medication prescribed by DoD providers, regardless of whether the medication is on the VA formulary.
The completion of these actions, which the President first announced as part of the package of 19 executive actions to improve the mental health of Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families in August 2014, build on the Administration’s ongoing work over the past six years.
- The 2016 Budget provides over $7 billion to continue VA’s focus on expanding and transforming mental health services for veterans to ensure accessible and patient-centered care, including treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ensuring timely access to mental healthcare, and treatment for Military Sexual Trauma.
- In response to the President’s 2012 Executive Order on Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families’ mental health, VA has increased its mental health staffing, expanded the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line, and enhanced its partnerships with community mental health providers. Additionally, DoD is reviewing its mental health outreach programs to prioritize those with the greatest impact, DoD and VA worked to increase suicide prevention awareness, and DoD, VA and the National Institutes of Health jointly developed the National Research Action Plan on military and veteran’s mental health to better coordinate federal research efforts.
In February 2015, the President signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for America Veterans (SAV) Act in order to take additional steps to help with veterans’ mental health and suicide prevention, including:
- Requiring annual third-party evaluations of VA’s mental health care and suicide prevention programs, and any associated recommendations;
- Creating a centralized website with resources and information for veterans about the range of mental health services available from the VA;
- Conducting a three-year pilot program for educational loan repayment to help recruit and retain VA psychiatrists;
- Extending the current five-year period of post-discharge eligibility for VA medical care by an additional year for those veterans discharged in 2009 and 2010.