Amvets, VA partner to improve veterans’ access to mental health services

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The HEAL program will focus on improving access to mental healthcare for veterans via a combination of clinical support and patient advocacy. (Image: VA.gov)

A new program aims to improve veterans' access to mental health services. The new program, a joint effort by Amvets and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, will be called HEAL, based on its component parts: healthcare evaluation, advocacy and legislation.

A recent National Academies report highlighted the barriers to mental health treatment for veterans. According to that study, about half of veterans who need those services do not get treatment, and more than half of those who screen positive for mental health conditions don't think they need care.

RELATED: Study: New York providers aren't prepared to care for veterans

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Those barriers to access moved Amvets to launch a comprehensive program to address the issue, according to Lana McKenzie, R.N., the organization’s chief medical executive, who's been tapped to lead HEAL.

“People with conditions like traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress—or even both, in many cases—are often bounced around the system because they’re too difficult to treat, or more alarmingly, end up homeless, suicidal, or confined to the margins of society due to inconsistent follow-up after discharge,” she said in a statement.

In addition to providing licensed registered nurses who will collaborate with the VA and providers to improve care quality for veterans, the HEAL program will evaluate existing VA services, advocate for improvements to VA services and promote legislation to support the program’s mission.

RELATED: Senate passes VETS Act, setting up telemedicine licensing reform at the VA

The partnership follows a related effort at the VA to provide telehealth services to veterans who live in rural areas and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

On March 6, the VA launched a pilot program based out of the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle. More than 500 veterans from rural areas across the country have enrolled in the study to date, and will receive care via interactive video linking a VA medical center with either a community-based outpatient clinic or the veteran’s home.

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