President Obama is announcing 19 new executive actions improving services for veterans and members of the military Tuesday. Speaking at an American Legion convention, Obama will detail new moves in his continuing efforts to reduce wait times
at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities, including a push to recruit medical staff in the shortage-plagued system. But the executive actions being announced go well beyond wait times, and come with important news of progress in one key area: The number of homeless veterans has dropped by a third in four years.
Mental health initiatives are a key focus of Obama's announcement—though one that may draw less media attention than talk of VA wait times, since VA wait times have been an official, media-anointed scandal. The actions planned include smoothing the transition from active military service to veteran status, to avoid gaps in mental health care, pushing for mental health parity, and increasing research and treatment for PTSD:
- Advancing cutting edge PTSD research: As part of the BRAIN Initiative, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is announcing a new $78.9 million five year research program to develop new, minimally-invasive neurotechnologies that will increase the ability of the body and brain to induce healing. The technology may help in the management of many diseases, including PTSD.
- Early detection of suicidality and PTSD: The Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health are launching a longitudinal project focused on the early detection of suicidality, PTSD, and long term effects of TBI, and other related issues in service members and Veterans. This research will guide the development of novel prevention and treatment efforts in support of the women and men who have served our country. The overall goal of this initiative is to rapidly translate findings and develop effective interventions.
- New investments in suicide prevention: The Department of Veterans Affairs is
conducting a national clinical trial on strategies to help prevent future suicidal related
activities among Veterans who have survived a recent attempt. The $34.4 million study will involve over 1,800 Veterans at 29 VA hospitals nationwide.
Veterans' mental health issues may draw less attention than long and in some cases falsified VA health care wait times—mental health issues are harder to distill into headlines and since Republicans definitely don't want to fund the level of research and treatment required, they're less likely to make it into partisan attacks—but are no less important. A heightened focus by the Obama administration is a good step; decades of commitment will be required, given the number of recent veterans with PTSD and other conditions.