April 09, 2018

Weekly Column: Veterans: Mental Health Resources

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Mental health is an essential part of everyone’s well-being, and mental illness touches the lives of millions of Americans.  The National Institute of Mental Health reports that one in six U.S. adults lives with a mental illness.  It affects Americans of all backgrounds and vocations.  For example, we know that the life-threatening experiences of those who serve our nation can leave scars, and veterans deserve comprehensive services that support their return to civilian life.  A thoughtful Idahoan asked me to share information about how veterans can receive mental health treatment through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  We must all continue to work against the stigma surrounding mental health care, especially for our veterans, and ensure that individuals coping with these conditions are able to access the services they need. 

The VA has a handbook accessible on its website, at www.mentalhealth.va.gov/docs/MHG_English.pdf, that details for veterans, their family members, Veterans Service Organizations and others how to find mental health care; the treatment settings where VA offers mental health care; treatments available for the most common concerns (such as depression, substance abuse and posttraumatic stress disorder); and special programs offered for particular groups of veterans.  A section of the brochure includes an explanation of what will happen when you request mental health services.  The following are the details the VA provides for how you can find the mental health care you need:

“If you have a mental health emergency (like wanting to hurt yourself or someone else), go to the nearest hospital emergency room or call 911.  If it is not a VA hospital, you may be able to move to a VA facility depending on your circumstances.  If you are feeling suicidal, you can also call, text, or chat online with the Veterans Crisis Line.  The Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text.  To speak with a responder by phone, call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1. To chat online go to www.veteranscrisisline.net.  To text with a responder, send a text message to 838255.  These confidential support options are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

If you have a mental health problem and have never been seen in a VA hospital or clinic, call VA general information hotline at 1-800-827-1000 or visit VA’s website at www.va.gov.  You will be able to find the address and phone number of a VA hospital or clinic near you.  Some Veterans begin the process of finding mental health care through a VA Readjustment Counseling Service Veterans Center (Vet Center).  Veterans who are homeless can get help finding mental health care at a Veterans drop-in center, or by contacting the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 1-877-424-3838, or by visiting the VA’s Homeless Veterans Website at www.va.gov/homeless.

If you are already using VA medical services, ask your primary care provider to arrange for you to see a VA mental health provider.”

Additionally, the VA notes that veterans and their families and friends can also privately explore information at www.MakeTheConnection.net.  Personal stories from veterans facing similar challenges, information about mental health treatment and support can be accessed through the site.

While much progress has been made in this area, there is always room for improvement.  Ensuring that veterans have access to high-quality services is one of my top priorities, and I will continue to work toward this goal.  I thank the Idahoan for the suggestion and hope that information about these resources reach those who need it.

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