Making Better Connections

US veterans returning from service in Afghanistan and Iraq are better able to access mental health resources today than ever before, thanks to unprecedented investment and new tools for managing records, the head of Veterans Affairs told defense reporters Thursday in Washington, D.C. Secretary James Peake, a former Army surgeon general, said that for Fiscal 2009 the VA has $3.9 billion dedicated to its mental health efforts, from screening for post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury to suicide hotline efforts. Peake said there have been about 850,000 veterans that have separated from the military since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. So far, VA has screened about 191,000 veterans, and, of those, about 37,000 have been deemed “at risk” for PTSD or TBI. Of those, 34,000 ask for a secondary screening themselves. So far, the VA has conducted about 21,000 secondary screens, Peake said. Separating veterans now have a longer timeframe to seek assistance, and the VA has built up a presence at reserve component demobilization sites for those seeking help.