Transitioning from active duty to civilian life can often be overwhelming even in the best of circumstances. VA research shows the year following separation from active duty military service can pose many transition-related challenges — such as homelessness, family reintegration, employment, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance misuse — that can increase the risk for suicide.
As part of a January 2018 Mental Health Executive Order (EO), the VA provides seamless mental health resources to eligible Service members and Veterans during that first year, whenever and wherever they need it. This EO reconfirms the commitment of VA in providing mental health services and resources to those who have served our nation, and continues to ensure no one is forgotten, especially during the first year after separation from service.
In response to the EO, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Department of Defense (DoD), and Department of Homeland Security (DHS), are working collaboratively on a Joint Action Plan that addresses providing newly transitioned Veterans with easily accessible mental health services during the critical first year post service. The plan focuses on the three key goals of:
- Ensuring that all transitioning Service members are aware of, and have access to, mental health services;
- Ensuring that the needs of at-risk Veterans are identified and met;
- Improving mental health and suicide prevention services for individuals who have been identified as needing care.
“We know that as Service members transition to Veteran status, some face higher transition-related challenges that need to be identified and anticipated before the onset of a mental health crisis,” says Dr. Keita Franklin, Executive Director, Suicide Prevention in the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. “Previously, navigating the VA health care system during the stressful time of transition was challenging and some transitioning Service members did not have access to VA provided mental health services, but this Executive Order aims at closing that gap.”
Franklin continued that she and VA’s DoD and DHS partners agree that an aggressive plan was needed to address these concerns and pointed out that their approach is different from past efforts. The benefits highlighted in the joint action plan include the following:
- Service members will learn about VA benefits and start enrollment before becoming Veterans.
- Newly transitioned Veterans can access mental health care right away at any VA medical center.
- Former Service members with eligible other than honorable discharges can receive mental health care from VA Medical Center’s in their first year after separation.
- Transitioning Service members and Veterans can easily and intuitively access mental health resources online.
- Veterans will have access to Whole Health Orientation groups, and other services such as Military One Source and the #BeThere peer support line.
This EO and the creation of the Joint Action Committee are the bold steps needed in addressing a longstanding VA priority for combatting mental health issues and preventing suicide among its Veterans, but Franklin states we all have a role to play.
“Family members, friends, and the community, are critical and can all assist in promoting wellness and well-being for our Veterans,” Franklin said. “There is no wrong door to care. We need to tell our transitioning Service members and Veterans that our door is open and we’re here to help them.”
Dr. Keita Franklin, a member of the Senior Executive Service, is the National Director of Suicide Prevention for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. Dr. Franklin serves as the principal advisor to VA leadership for all matters pertaining to suicide prevention.