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Military, VA Boost Mental Health Care Access, Capabilities

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 8, 2007 – The departments of Defense and Veteran Affairs have teamed up to improve access to mental health care services to better assist servicemembers, veterans and families, a senior U.S. military officer said here today.

The two departments are addressing concerns surfaced by some servicemembers about lengthy waiting times for mental health care appointments, said Air Force Col. Joyce Adkins, a psychologist with the Force Health Protection and Readiness directorate at the Defense Department’s Health Affairs office.

“We are clarifying the access time or the wait time that people have for appointments, and this is something that we’re doing working with the Defense Department and the VA,” she said.

The military services also provide 24-hour mental health care hotlines, Adkins said, adding that virtually all military health care treatment facilities offer same-day and walk-in appointments.

VA is now offering 24-hour phone contact for mental health appointments, she said.

Servicemembers can access routine mental health appointments within seven days or less, Adkins said, whether those services are accessed at military treatment facilities or through Tricare, the military’s health maintenance organization.

The military health care system and Veterans Affairs’ clinics and hospitals are treating cases of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury among servicemembers and veterans who have served in the global war on terrorism, Adkins said.

Military members who think they may be experiencing psychological issues shouldn’t minimize or ignore their concerns or put off seeking treatment, Adkins said.

“We are doing our best to educate people that it is important to identify and to treat these conditions early,” she said. “That way, you can recover and get back to your unit or get back to duty much more quickly.”

Military leaders are receiving training on how to identify and help servicemembers who may be experiencing mental health issues, Adkins said.

Care providers and military leaders should be advocates in assisting servicemembers and families to understand and navigate the process to obtain needed care, she said.

“It is important, because people have enough to worry about,” Adkins emphasized. “They don’t need to have to deal with trying to figure out where to go to get help.”

Military leaders want “to make it as easy as possible for an individual who wants to seek care to get that care as quickly and easily as possible,” she said.

The military also is centralizing some of its mental health care assets as part of ongoing transformation, Adkins reported. For example, the Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury is slated to begin initial operations Nov. 30 and should become fully operational over the next six months, she said. The center is to be located at the new National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md.

The center will be Defense Department funded, but it also will include liaisons from the VA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Adkins said.

“I want to assure our military personnel and our veterans that we are doing everything we can to make sure that the psychological health and fitness of every member or our military is taken care of,” Adkins said.

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Related Sites:
Mental Health Self-Assessment Program
Force Health Protection and Readiness
Department of Veterans Affairs


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