Peer Support Key To Helping Veterans Overcome Mental Health Problems

Andy Marso | Kansas City Public Media | December 29, 2014

...About one-third of the 2.6 million veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with mental illnesses like PTSD, anxiety and depression.  The VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System which includes the Topeka hospital where Stucker was treated, is seeing more patients for PTSD every year: up from 1,297 in 2011 to 2,216 in 2014. The costs of PTSD treatment there this year exceeded $28 million.

Stucker praises the specialized mental health unit at Topeka’s Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center, but not all veterans have easy access to that kind of facility, and there is widespread agreement that the VA system nationwide needs more psychiatrists and more innovative outpatient therapies. Veterans also seem to agree that one of the things that can most benefit them is talking with other veterans.

...A VA mental health reform bill aimed at filling some of those gaps passed the U.S. House unanimously but has been blocked in the Senate by Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma.  The Clay Hunt SAV Act, named for a Marine who committed suicide in 2011, would create a peer support and community outreach pilot program and an interactive website to help veterans find those resources in their area. It also would offer student loan repayment to psychiatrists who choose to work at the VA and require annual evaluations of suicide prevention programs within the VA and the U.S. Department of Defense to determine their effectiveness...