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Veterans Crisis Line Badge

Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

Mental Health Summit: Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Veterans and Family Members
Hampton, Virginia
September 5, 2013

Good morning, everyone. Dan Hoffman, thanks for that kind introduction. More importantly, thank you for your leadership of our VISN 6. Let me also acknowledge:

  • Congressman Bobby Scott—it's good to see you again;
  • Mayor Molly Ward, Hampton, Virginia;
  • Representatives of our Veterans Service Organizations;
  • Other congressional staff office representatives—thank you all for being here today;
  • Director Mike Dunfee and your Hampton Virginia Medical Center staff—thank you for the tremendous work you do here in serving our Veterans, and for your time and effort in organizing this mental health summit;
  • To our community mental healthcare providers—thank you for joining us;
  • Fellow Veterans, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I'm honored to help launch this community mental health summit. VA is hosting local summits, like this one, at each of our 151 VA medical centers to broaden the dialogue between clinicians and stakeholders, to attempt to demystify the issues surrounding mental health treatment, and to try to overcome the stigma against seeking needed help, which is available to Veterans. Our goal is to learn from you and share what information we have learned over nearly 150 years of caring for those who have served this country in war. We hope this collaboration will make us all better at meeting the mental health needs of each generation of Veterans and their families, and at informing us about future programs and protocols we might consider.

Military service and combat demand courage, an attribute that has never been lacking in our military formations. But bearing the load that comes in the aftermath of war also takes courage. We know that combat Veterans, including those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have borne invisible wounds which can be as debilitating as any physical trauma sustained in battle.

More troops are surviving combat today, and their injuries are serious and their issues, complex. Many Veterans carry with them the baggage of war—PTS, Post-Traumatic Stress—which could include anxiety, increased irritability, a sense of numbness, flashbacks, and feeling depressed. Most of us are able to work through PTS on our own, with the help of strong families and other support mechanisms. Some Veterans incur the "D"—PTS-D—disorder. And while most Veterans can transition out of PTS on their own, PTS-D requires professional help.

At VA, we know that when we identify and treat, people get better. PTS, PTS-D, TBI, depression—all are treatable, if we can engage Veterans who are dealing with these issues. They are not damaged goods. They are fully capable of living productive lives. What Veterans of all generations need are quality healthcare, education, and jobs—not being ostracized, shunned, or ignored.

Early intervention is key. We must do all we can before isolation, dysfunctional behavior, and loss of identity, of confidence, and personal direction begin a downward spiral towards depression, substance misuse, anger management, breakdown in relationships, unemployment, homelessness, and sometimes, suicide.

At VA, we want to provide effective, holistic treatment for Veterans with the latest evidence-based protocols, and support, to help with reintegration into their communities. Towards that end, President Obama has increased VA's mental health funding requests by nearly 57 percent between 2009 and 2014—resources to expand access, research, technology investments, and best practice initiatives associated with mental health treatment. We've strengthened collaboration with DoD, the Department of Defense, to encourage Veteran and Servicemember mental health treatment by addressing the stigma associated with it.

There has been a recent increase in those seeking treatment. Last year, we provided specialized mental health treatment to more than 1.3 million men and women. Those increases result, in part, from improved screening for depression, PTS-D, substance misuse, and military sexual trauma. We expect these numbers to increase further. We are working with DoD to establish warm handoffs for the vulnerable, treatable, and difficult to spot Veterans with needs.

That's where our local community stakeholders, like you, come in. We want to engender a wider network of support, one that reaches beyond our walls and grows a coordinated, interconnected mental health model leveraging available resources. We have already created a workable collaboration model with community partners focused on ending Veterans' homelessness in 2015. There is a nexus between mental health and homelessness. We believe that similar collaboration will also help us address the growing mental health needs of Veterans and our need to provide them access to care and support they need, when and where needed.

Just as the unknowns and the complexity of homelessness encouraged a collaborative effort, the mental health needs of Veterans and their families would benefit from our working together to find solutions. You are the experts on the issues within your communities, on both homelessness and mental health, and we need your insights, experience, and instincts to help inform us all about how we might best serve Veterans in need.

That's what brings us together today. This summit enables our sitting at the same table, to listen and learn from each other, to forge a focused, sustainable relationship for taking existing mental health treatment programs to another level. We hope this is the beginning of a long term dialogue for creating, for all of us, healthier, more embracing, and productive communities. So, our initial goals:

  • Start a mutual dialogue that will lead to greater collaboration and coordination in helping Veterans successfully transition to civilian life;
  • Raise awareness, at the neighborhood level, of the resources available to Veterans and their families;
  • Reinforce that seeking treatment for the invisible wounds of war or other trauma isn't a sign of weakness; it's a sign of strength;
  • And moderate angst in some communities that returning combat Veterans are potential problems rather than promising citizens.

Your work holds a profound potential for good—for Servicemembers and Veterans, for their families who care for and support them, and for the communities in which they live. More importantly, your presence demonstrates our shared respect for the service and sacrifice of Veterans. Thank you all for participating in and contributing to this summit today.

Thank you.