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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs


VA Brings Mental Health Programs to Primary Care Settings

July 16, 2007, 08:00:00 AM

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VA Secretary Jim Nicholson
VA Secretary Jim Nicholson

Nicholson: VA Leading the Way in Increasing Access

WASHINGTON -- Addressing a special mental health forum with the top clinicians and researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson announced plans to begin locating some of the Department’s mental health programs closer to places where primary care is provided.

“Given the reluctance of some veterans to talk about emotional problems, increasing our mental health presence in primary care settings will give veterans a familiar venue in which to receive care -- without actually going to an identified mental health clinic,” he said.

Nicholson described VA as “a long-standing leader in mental health,” with $3 billion devoted this year to mental health services.  The Department has the nation’s largest mental health program and is internationally recognized for research and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“The wounds of war are not always the result of explosions and rocket fire,” he added. “They can sometimes be unseen and cloaked in silence.  If left untreated, they can be just as lethal.”

“We let veterans know that mental health issues and other military-related readjustment problems are not their fault -- that we can help them -- and that they can get better,” he added.

Acknowledging that VA officials expect to see increasing numbers of newly returned combat veterans with PTSD and other mental health issues, Nicholson said mental health care is currently provided at each of VA’s 153 medical centers and 882 outpatient clinics.

Nicholson also announced plans to begin a series of regional conferences about providing mental health care to veterans with “our partners at the state, local and community levels.”

Recent expansion of the Department’s mental health services include:

  • Greater availability of “telemental health” programs, which treated about 20,000 patients last year;   
  • Integrating mental health services into geriatric programs;   
  • Adding psychologists and social workers to the staffs of VA’s polytrauma centers;   
  • Increasing the number of Vet Centers from 209 to 232, and adding 100 new combat veterans to run outreach programs to their former comrades.

“As the newest generation of combat veterans returns home, we want to ensure that we are providing them the very best in mental health care and treatment possible.  They deserve nothing less,” Nicholson said.

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