The Veterans Affairs Administration is working with veterans service organizations to try to help them find mental health care. AmVets is launching a new toll free phone number (1-833-VET-HEAL) March 19 to help veterans navigate the system and obtain the health care they need.
“I think that the health care system itself is very complex,” Lana McKenzie, Amvets’ chief medical executive, said on Agency in Focus — Veterans Affairs. “The challenge is that some veterans will give up after a few phone calls, or if they are unable to gain an appropriate appointment near the local facility where they live. And some veterans are being under-served with a quick diagnosis but a lack of follow-up.”
She told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin that they’re working on a comprehensive approach that will be separate from the Veterans Crisis Hotline. AmVets will be standing up both chat and email options soon as well.
She said the organization is using a case management concept that focuses on understanding the individual who is seeking help, navigating them through the health care space, and connecting them to the point of care, be that a VA health care provider or a community provider via the VA Choice program.
Through this process, McKenzie says AmVets will be able to pick out trends among the users, making them more able to point out and address barriers to service veterans are facing in health care.
She expects the bulk of the users will be searching for help with mental health issues.
McKenzie said the demand for mental health services among veterans has increased recently, but there’s still a gap in service where veterans are falling through the cracks.
“I truly believe veterans are facing this crisis because of their experience and their exposure in their career,” she said. “And also the stigma of being labeled with mental illness shy people away from seeking help, and we’re trying to change that.”
The VA has found that 20 veterans per day commit suicide. McKenzie said that only six out of those 20 are active within the VA health system. She wants to find out where those other 14 veterans are, and try to reach them.
“Veterans services organizations like AmVets have a longstanding relationship working with the VA on a variety of priorities,” McKenzie said. “Secretary Shulkin and President Trump have made suicide prevention their priority. So we have 100 percent cooperation from the VA, from their suicide prevention team to mental health services team. We look forward to next week when we open up the lines to connect veterans to the VA and get them to the point of care.”
Daisy Thornton is Federal News Network’s digital managing editor. In addition to her editing responsibilities, she covers federal management, workforce and technology issues. She is also the commentary editor; email her your letters to the editor and pitches for contributed bylines.