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New annual report highlights joint DoD/VA/HHS efforts to provide mental health services

U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Cohen A. Young  U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Cohen A. Young

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The military and two federal agencies released their yearly report on how to improve access to mental health services for veterans, service members and their families. The Departments of Defense (DoD), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Veterans Affairs (VA) released the 2016 Annual Report of the Interagency Task Force on Military and Veterans Mental Health. It addresses several key areas in care, including how to improve the transition from military health care to the VA. In addition, the report looked at how to better share information between the HHS and its state and community-level partners and how to improve training for community providers who deliver services to veterans, service members and their families.

“The mental health of those who have and continue to serve, as well as their families, is of utmost important to us,” said Dr. John Davison, chief of the Condition-Based Specialty Care Section of the Defense Health Agency’s Clinical Support Division and member of the task force. “We want to build an environment that addresses the issues of suicide and its causes, and provide the best possible access to the best possible care.”

The report details progress across eight key policy areas. Some of these include: suicide prevention, joint clinical and outcome measures, and partnerships with local communities. It also highlights recent accomplishments and ongoing initiatives, including:

  • Providing a single, national toll-free phone number (1-800-273-TALK) to have anytime telephone support to individuals in crisis.
  • Enhancing access to mental health care by building partnerships between VA and community providers. This included establishing a one-stop, web-based repository of DoD, VA and HHS tools to provide community organizations and clinicians with information and resources to support their work with veterans.
  • Updating TRICARE coverage to eliminate mental health treatment limitations and excess out of pocket costs. This ensures parity between the mental health and medical/surgical benefit for service members, retirees and their families.

“What we’ve been able to accomplish so far, and will continue to accomplish, will only be possible through continued close cooperation between the DoD, HHS and VA,” said U.S. Public Health Service Capt. Robert DeMartino, director of Mental Health Policy for the assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and task force member.  “We are collectively advancing mental health and substance use care across the federal enterprise utilizing joint resources and best practices.”

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