Veteran healthcare – and mental health treatment specifically – is a vital topic of conversation in our nation, as it should be. Our men and women in uniform give so much of themselves for our country, leaving behind family members and friends, that we owe them nothing but the best, cutting edge medical care in the world when they return home.
These men and women have faced multiple deployments, carrying a tremendous burden for our country. As we have seen from so many stories in the media, some of our brave warriors face challenges and crises after their homecoming.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki has made it very clear that we must anticipate the needs of our returning veterans and do everything possible to ensure they have access to quality mental health care.
We are meeting that need at the Milwaukee VA with a full spectrum of care that includes Iraq and Afghanistan outreach counselors to help new patients navigate the system, as well as doctors, therapists, social workers and other clinicians. In addition to private, one-on-one sessions with healthcare providers, we offer a wide array of group sessions for veterans and family members, such as Operation Enduring Family. Our other unique therapies include art, music, yoga and even a partnership with BraveHearts Therapeutic Riding and Educational Center where veterans can find healing while interacting and riding horses in a nearby community.
We also started last year a mental health urgent care clinic within our emergency department, so veterans have care available to them at any time, night or day, 24/7.
While we are proud of our accomplishments, we know we can never rest on our laurels and strive to find any opportunity to offer even better care. That is why we were so pleased that we will soon hire nine new mental health positions at our Milwaukee VA. We already have 314 mental health clinicians and support staff working with our veterans in Milwaukee and our Community Based Outpatient Clinics in Cleveland, Union Grove, Appleton and Green Bay. This additional staff will allow us to focus on a more team-oriented approach which will only bolster our comprehensive, full spectrum of care.
Additionally, when our new Green Bay Clinic opens in the summer of 2013, we look forward to offering even more in-depth mental health care to veterans in that area.
We know there is a growing need to treat our veterans, and we are growing with that need. VA provided specialty mental health services to more than 1.3 million veterans in 2011– a 35 percent increase since 2007. All told, we are adding 1,600 mental health staff professionals throughout the United States. Our total mental health care budget has increased 39 percent since 2009, and increased the total number of mental health staff by 41 percent.
Our never-ceasing mission is to increase access to our care and services. That’s why you will see our outreach counselors at special events and college campuses. That’s why we’ve increased the number of Vet Centers throughout the country.
VA has also developed an extensive suicide prevention program. Our Veterans Crisis Line has fielded more than 600,000 calls from veterans in need.
To locate the VA facility or Vet Center nearest to you, or enroll for care, please visit our website at: www.milwaukee.va.gov. Our website provides new features and important contact information. We also post regular, update on our Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/milwaukeeva.
Despite all these efforts, sometimes, the hardest part for some of our veterans is just admitting they need help, and taking that next courageous step through our doors. If you know a veteran of any age, please encourage him or her to visit the VA to enroll for benefits.
And if you are in duress at anytime, immediate help is always available at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net, or by calling the Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, then push “1.” You can also get help by texting 838255.
On behalf of everyone at the Milwaukee VA, thank you to all our men and women who have so bravely served. Now that you are home, I hope you will give us a chance to serve you.