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Columbia Missourian

LETTER: Community can help veterans connect with mental health services

By Sallie Houser-Hanfelder, director of the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital
June 17, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki often reminds us that, as the tide of war recedes, we have the opportunity and responsibility to anticipate the needs of returning veterans.  As these veterans return home, we must ensure that they have access to quality mental health care in order to successfully make the transition to civilian life.

Last year, VA provided specialty mental health services to more than 1.3 million veterans — a 35 percent increase since 2007. That's why VA recently announced that it's adding 1,600 mental health staff professionals and 300 support staff members nationwide, including seven at Truman Veterans Hospital.

VA's mental health care budget has increased by 39 percent since 2009, and its mental health staff has increased by 41 percent since 2007. Currently, there are 20,590 professionals dedicated to providing direct mental health treatment to veterans.

Individuals who have had multiple deployments over a decade of combat have carried a tremendous burden for our nation. That's why Shinseki has challenged us to improve upon our progress and identify barriers that prevent timely treatment.

The mental health of America's veterans not only touches us at VA and the Department of Defense but also families, friends, co-workers and people in our communities. We ask that you urge veterans to reach out and connect with VA. To locate the nearest VA facility for enrollment and to get scheduled for care, veterans can visit VA's website at www.va.gov. Immediate help is available at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net or by calling the crisis line at 800-273-8255 (push 1) or texting 838255.

Sallie Houser-Hanfelder is director of the Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital in Columbia.