Obama Orders Improvements In Mental Health Care
By Patricia Kime – Staff writer Marine Corps Times August 31, 2012
President Obama plans to sign an executive order today aimed at reducing the rate of suicide and mental health disorders in veterans and troops by improving access to behavioral health care.
The order, to be announced during a presidential visit to Fort Bliss, Texas, will direct cabinet agencies including the departments of Veterans Affairs, Defense and Health and Human Services and Education, to expand suicide prevention efforts, fill vacancies for mental health jobs and widen outreach to service members and veterans.
The executive order, “Improving Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans, Service Members and Military Families,” includes actions to improve access to mental health services for service members and veterans, including enhanced partnerships with community providers and increased VA staffing; and mental health research, a senior White House official said.
Under the order, VA must expand its veterans’ crisis line capability by 50 percent by Dec. 31 and ensure that veterans who identify as being a danger to themselves or others connect with a trained mental health professional within 24 hours.
VA also is required to partner with DoD in developing and implementing a nationwide year-long suicide prevention campaign aimed at veterans.
The order also authorizes VA to expand programs based on veterans helping veterans, directing the department to hire 800 more peer-to-peer counselors, and it also directs VA to work with HHS to establish a pilot program that leverages community mental health resources to reduce the waiting times veterans often face when seeking mental health services.
Mental health concerns have plagued the military since at least 2004, when services’ suicide rates started rising.
The Army in July faced its worst month for suicides in at least three years; 26 active duty soldiers and 12 Army National Guard or Army Reserve members were suspected or confirmed to have died by suicide.
The Marine Corps suffered eight suicides in July, bringing its total for the year to 32 – matching its total for all of 2011.
This year, 55 Air Force members have committed suicide, while the Navy has had 39.
According to Rand Corp. think tank, nearly 19 percent of service members deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan meet diagnostic criteria for either post traumatic stress disorder or depression.
To improve medical care for affected individuals and families, Obama’s order also establishes a task force of representatives from DoD, Education, the Domestic Policy Council, National Security Staff, the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The panel, known as the Military and Veterans Mental Health Interagency Task Force, will “make recommendations to the president on additional strategies to improve mental health and substance abuse treatment services for veterans, service members and their families,” according to a release.
During his visit to Fort Bliss, Obama plans to address soldiers and meet privately with service members and their families.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also has addressed military mental health issues in his campaign.
In a recent speech to the American Legion, Romney said that if elected, he would improve veterans’ access to health care by hiring more mental health professionals and allowing veterans to see Tricare military health providers if necessary.
“Veterans face unconscionable waits for mental health treatment,” Romney said. “Every day, 18 service men and women take their own lives, an unspeakable and unacceptable tragedy.”