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Sun, Feb. 16

Meeting our veterans' mental health needs

As of December 2009, more than 2 million U.S. troops have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Marine Corps Times. Among the troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly 40 percent of soldiers, a third of Marines, and half of the National Guard members report symptoms of psychological problems, according to a Department of Defense report. Problems facing returning soldiers include anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in addition to substance abuse, traumatic brain injury (TBI), family violence, and grief or bereavement.

Veterans living in the Prescott area are fortunate to have a wide range of services provided through the Northern Arizona Veterans Affairs Health Care System. Our local VA has been progressive in its approach to dealing with veteran's mental health needs, offering programs that treat substance abuse and other disorders. They also work to eliminate the stigma related to mental illness, and hold an annual event in conjunction with Mental Illness Awareness Week.

According to a report by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, the VA is the nation's largest integrated care system and was established to provide treatment for service-related conditions or disabilities. Eligibility requires honorable discharge from active, full-time service (this does not include National Guard/Reserve members). Veterans who are seeking care for a service-related disability or who have been determined to be at least 50 percent disabled from service-related conditions are automatically eligible for care at the VA, according to the 2010 Veterans Healthcare Benefits Handbook.

All eligible veterans are placed into one of eight priority groups used by the VA to balance demand with resources. The extent of enrollees receiving treatment at a given time is determined by congressional appropriations. For those veterans eligible and in one of the eight groups, both inpatient and outpatient mental health and substance use services are available. Domiciliary care is available and provides residential rehabilitation programs for veterans requiring minimal medical care as they recover from medical, psychiatric, or psychosocial problems. The VA also provides supplemental services such as readjustment counseling, work restoration programs, educational assistance, a home loan program, and a special program for the homeless. Beneficiaries may also seek services through partnered federal agencies such Social Security and Housing and Urban Development.

Combat veterans returning from OIF and OEF (Iraq or Afghanistan) have a special time-limited eligibility after discharge, regardless of service-connected illness or disability. Veterans not seeking care for service-related injury or illness or disability from service-related conditions may apply for VA enrollment by filling out a simple one-page application available through the VA.

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