WASHINGTON — To combat the veterans’ mental health crisis, Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and veterans’ interest group AMVETS announced a joint program Tuesday that will give veterans better access to mental health screenings and services and to allow the organizations to hear directly from veterans.
The program, called HEAL, which stands for health care, evaluation, advocacy and legislation, will accomplish these goals by establishing a toll-free hotline, as well as email and online chat services, said AMVETS Chief Medical Executive Lana McKenzie. The phone and email services will be available at 1-833-838-4325 (VET-HEAL) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
They are also working to reduce the mental health stigma that many veterans experience, said Carolyn Clancy, a top official of the Veteran Health Administration.
“Having another veteran from an organization that you trust say, ‘It’s OK,’’…means far, far more than anyone from VHA could necessarily share,” Clancy said.
A 2016 Veterans’ Affairs study found that an average of 20 veterans were killing themselves each day.
The program will cost around $700,000 said Sherman Gillums Jr., AMVETS chief strategy officer.
At a joint meeting of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees also held Tuesday, members of veterans’ organizations lobbied for several veterans’ issues including continuing government funding of veterans’ health care.
Vietnam Veterans of America President John Rowan argued against privatization of VA health care services.
“What are you going to do if you privatize everything and the health care cost for veterans triples?” he said.