Shinseki Cites Collaboration in Mental Health Care
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 27, 2009 Psychological war wounds are nothing new to U.S. servicemembers, but the support of the nation to care for their injuries, until recent years, was somewhat uncharted territory.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki addresses the audience during the DOD/VA Mental Health Summit in Washington, D.C., Oct. 26, 2009. The summit was the first of its kind and featured mental health experts from both departments, other cabinet agencies and nongovernmental organizations. The goal was to discuss a public health model for enhanced mental health care for returning troops, veterans and their families. DoD photo by Cherie Cullen
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are committed to advancing that care because it’s the right thing to do as a nation, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said yesterday when he and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates launched a joint National Mental Health Summit here.
Improving mental health care has become a top priority for both departments, which have made great strides in mental health research, treatment and overall care, respectively. And through this week’s summit, they hope to advance their expertise and resources even further.
“Our collaboration with [the Defense Department] is mission-critical, because we share the same clients, the same population, at different stages in their lives,” Shinseki said. “There can be no ‘seamless transition’ or ‘continuum of care’ without serious and high-quality collaboration between both departments.”
The first-of-its-kind summit continues through Oct. 29. Shinseki said he hopes the gathering of more than 200 defense and VA health care professionals will advance both organizations’ understanding and spark positive communication in their joint efforts.
“We hope this summit enables us to measurably enhance, strengthen and expand and better coordinate the operating relationships between [our] mental health activities,” he said. “We want to ensure a fail-safe network of support for servicemembers and veterans that reaches out beyond the confines of either department.”
Post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury have outcomes as devastating as those from physical injuries, and everyone is vulnerable, Shinseki said, noting that both departments are eager to learn how to better address those injuries through various programs and methods.
The debilitating effects of psychological trauma can lead troops and veterans into a downward spiral of drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, anger issues, failed marriages and eventually suicide, he explained, noting that more veterans have committed suicide since 2001 than the number of servicemembers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over that period.
“There is urgency in addressing the mental baggage of war,” he said. “Our newest generation of veterans, returning from the ongoing conflicts, is experiencing increased rates of alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence as they undergo reintegration at home. While [Iraq and Afghanistan] veterans comprise no more than 10 percent of all veterans being seen for mental health care, they could be in treatment for a very long time if early intervention, diagnosis and treatment are not priorities.”
Shinseki said the summit’s work this week holds a profound potential for good. He left the group with three goals as they go into their group sessions:
-- To build on and enhance the current level of mental health care;
-- To maintain advances in mental health by promoting psychological health, enhanced resilience and prevention; and
-- To establish a mental health model that leverages the nation’s resources, not just the military’s.
“Beyond families, we must look to workplaces, educational institutions, houses of worship and community-based health and other organizations,” Shinseki said. “At every juncture of care, we must ask ourselves pivotally: What else can be done?
“Your charter is to think broadly and boldly to envision a future with a unified public health approach to mental health,” he continued. “We must translate the most promising ideas and strategies into research, policy and practice.”