Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson on Monday said that the department will add mental health services at more than 100 health care facilities nationwide, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 7/17). At a national forum of VA mental health experts, Nicholson said that the department's health care facilities have experienced problems with increased demand for mental health services from veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who return with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

In response, Nicholson said that VA will spend $37.7 million of the almost $3 billion department budget for mental health services to place psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals in primary care clinics. Nicholson said that the move will allow veterans to receive tests for mild-to-moderate brain injury, a condition that often is difficult to detect and can appear months after veterans return from service. In addition, the move will provide access to treatment for veterans who do not require specialty mental health services, Nicholson said (AP/Washington Times, 7/17).

Nicholson also said the VA will hire more suicide prevention staff, provide mental health services 24 hours per day, and coordinate with state and local agencies that assist with health care for veterans. He said, "Given the possible reluctance of some veterans to talk about emotional problems, increasing our mental health presence in primary care settings will give veterans a familiar venue in which to receive care without actually going to an identified mental health clinic." Nicholson added, "VA is advancing its mental health program in a full-court press" (CongressDaily, 7/17).

Related Developments
Alaska Native veterans: Some Alaska Native veterans who have returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have received Native healing techniques for mental health conditions in addition to the conventional treatments provided at VA health care facilities, the AP/Anchorage Daily News reports. The techniques include therapeutic touch, participation in Native songs and dances, and talking circles (Halpin, AP/Anchorage Daily News, 7/16).
NOW Resolution: Female soldiers and veterans do not receive adequate health care services, the National Organization for Women said on Sunday during a national convention, the Detroit Free Press reports. In a resolution, NOW requested improved availability of pap tests and mammograms for female soldiers and veterans, and it has asked the military to distinguish between PTSD related to combat and PTSD related to sexual abuse among female soldiers (Patton, Detroit Free Press, 7/16).
Petition: The Dave Matthews Band has posted a petition on its Web site that seeks a congressional investigation of cases in which Army physicians allegedly misdiagnosed soldiers with PSTD, the San Jose Mercury News reports. Dave Matthews discusses the petition, which to date has 23,000 signatures, in an interview on Sunday on ABC's "This Week." He said, "It just struck me as a profound injustice that someone who had given so much of themselves and clearly showed such a quality of personality that the gratitude we're showing them is basically a dishonorable discharge" (San Jose Mercury News, 7/15).

The "military's enlightened attitude toward mental health is a positive development," a Las Vegas Sun editorial states. The editorial concludes, "As the Pentagon works to overhaul health care for troops and veterans in the aftermath of the scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., it is gratifying to see that mental health is a priority" (Las Vegas Sun, 7/16).

"Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork/dailyreports/healthpolicy. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation . © 2005 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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