Veterans & Their Families: A SAMHSA Priority (Part
providers and their local communities face significant
challenges. “Today, only about 30 to 40 percent
of veterans who are eligible for care actually seek care
from VA,” Ms. Power says.
Mr. Moreno, for example, resisted getting help because,
as a paratrooper trained to be tough and strong, he “didn’t
want to look weak,” he says. Sgt. Nist notes that
a roundtrip from Somerset for an appointment at the nearest
VA facility “takes the whole day.”
In addition, troubling issues related to trauma can arise
years, even a decade or more, after the event. Service-related
health care benefits for National Guard and Reserve members,
however, currently last only 2 years.
Family members affected
either by deployments or by issues related to
returning veterans also may require mental health or substance
abuse care in their communities.
The Agency’s support for the missions of DoD and
VA has produced several significant results, including
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline—1-800-273-TALK. In
July, SAMHSA’s collaboration with VA culminated
in a new service to help veterans and their
families deal with a potential suicidal crisis.
According to a recent report from SAMHSA’s
National Survey on Drug Use and Health, male
veterans in the general population are at an
elevated risk of suicide.
In cooperation with VA, SAMHSA modified its toll-free
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Lifeline number, 1-800-273-TALK, automatically connects callers to crisis centers in their
area. Starting in summer 2007, a new prompt offers the
option of pressing #1 and connecting directly to a special
VA suicide crisis line, located in Canandaigua, NY, and
staffed by mental health professionals.
- Web Page. A special Web page for veterans
and their families is posted on the SAMHSA Web site at www.samhsa.gov/vets. (See “Resources
- Mental Health Task Force. SAMHSA’s
collaboration with DoD has included participation
in the DoD Mental Health Task Force, which was “charged
with looking at the efficacy of behavioral health
services for active duty members returning from
Iraq and Afghanistan,” says Ms. Power,
who served as SAMHSA’s representative
on the Task Force.
In June 2007, the group’s recommendations went to
the Secretary of Defense, who responded in September of
that year with a “blueprint for action.” DoD
asked SAMHSA to analyze resources, programs, and
initiatives and identify those that can aid in meeting
the recommendations of the Task Force.
The result? A recently completed “Crosswalk” document
highlights several areas where SAMHSA’s expertise
can help. An example, Ms. Power suggests, may be SAMHSA’s
national public service campaign seeking to end the discrimination
and resulting isolation that affect persons experiencing
mental health and substance abuse issues—an effort
that DoD “wants to begin to address broadly.”
- National Forum. In May 2007, a national
forum brought together providers of community mental health
and substance abuse services and representatives of veterans
service organizations. They provided recommendations to
SAMHSA on how the mental health and substance abuse provider
communities can support DoD and VA efforts in addressing
the behavioral health needs of returning veterans and their
Mr. Moreno, Sgt. Nist, and his wife, Lori Nist, who serves
as secretary of the Somerset County Military Family Support
Group, all attended.
Planning is under way for a second national conference
to be held in Washington, DC, during summer 2008. That
conference will build on the lessons learned from “The
Road Home” conference SAMHSA sponsored in 2006 and
will provide opportunities for collaborative strategic
planning to address the needs of returning veterans and
their families (see SAMHSA
News online, May/June 2006).
Along with SAMHSA, VA, and DoD, organizations representing
two of SAMHSA’s major professional constituencies—the
National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors
and the National Association of State Mental Health Program
Directors—are participating in planning discussions.
The gathering will emphasize information sharing and coordination
among a variety of providers and service systems
at the Federal, state, and local levels.
“Improving mental health and substance abuse treatment
services for veterans is SAMHSA’s goal. We can help
bring people together from the Federal, state, and local
levels to make sure veterans are served with the same dedication
and commitment they showed as members of our armed forces,” says
For more information, visit SAMHSA’s Web site at www.samhsa.gov/vets.
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