Policy Priorities to Improve Veterans’ Mental Health
Most Americans, policymakers included, consider it a national duty to care for military veterans. The recent findings of a veterans task force can help policymakers chart a path to better fulfill that sacred obligation.
In March of 2019, President Donald Trump signed an executive order creating the task force known as PREVENTS – the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Suicide.1 With the publication of the task force’s recommendations, policymakers are now poised to make sure all U.S. veterans have access to the mental health services they need and deserve.
That access must include groups that can be marginalized or difficult to reach, specifically women, homeless veterans and veterans who separated from the service with an other-than-honorable discharge.
Connecting Homeless Veterans with Mental Health Services
United States military veterans as a population face significant mental health challenges – and a substantially higher rate of suicide than non-veterans. Researchers and policymakers are heightening their attention to this problem, but the challenge remains complex, especially when veterans’ mental health issues are compounded by homelessness.
Virtual Reality & Veterans’ Mental Health
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be difficult to treat, but a new therapeutic approach using virtual reality technologies shows tremendous promise. Treatments such as Bravemind, an interactive, virtual reality-based exposure therapy tool used in a clinical setting, are now being used to treat PTSD. Tools like these can curb the painful rise in veteran suicides and help men and women with PTSD resume healthy, productive lives.
Continued research and improved access to virtual reality-based tools like Bravemind can go a long way toward addressing the mental health crisis facing the nation’s veterans.
Veteran Barriers to Access for Innovative Rehabilitative Devices
The VA offers a broad network and dedicated cohort of physicians to treat these veterans. Yet access to innovative rehabilitative devices can be limited. Such is the case with medical exoskeletons, wearable devices that improve mobility and boost independence for patients with spinal cord injuries.
These barriers to access are problematic, because technology like the exoskeleton can improve outcomes for veterans and reduce their dependency on care over the long term. By contrast, the cost of treating a Veteran with spinal cord injury using outdated technologies can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
The Mental Health Benefits of Physical Rehabilitation
Combat injuries that would have once been fatal are now survivable because of medical advances and more sophisticated frontline care. In turn, scores of veterans are returning home with severe physical limitations and long-term, complex medical needs. Addressing the disabilities that are easy to see has long been the focus, but diagnosing and treating the emotional and psychological effects of warfare has only become a priority in recent decades.
Delivering on the Promise of the Forever GI Bill
Access to higher education remains a major concern for veterans. Despite the funding and assistance made available, issues persist. Recent attempts to address these problems are promising but stop short of offering a complete solution.
With over $11 billion a year spent on education benefits for veterans, policymakers must give due attention to this topic.
Access to Educational Opportunities
As higher education costs rise, there is a widening gap in the GI Bill.
Programs to integrate returning soldiers into campus life are often fragmented and diffused and allow too many veterans to fall through the cracks. This dynamic most impacts those with PTS and other psychological issues for whom treatment is available, but often not identified in a timely way.
Turmoil within the for-profit education space has a particularly heavy impact on veterans since GI Bill funds lost when these institutions close can mean a loss of housing benefits as well.
Soldier Strong Access works for policy change in order to close these gaps, so our veterans can acquire the skills they need to thrive as private citizens.