Gov. Rick Perry today announced initiatives to expand and improve mental health support programs for veterans and their families utilizing state funds marked for veterans mental health.
"The men and women of the military make the ultimate sacrifice to leave their families and loved ones and serve our country fighting in distant lands," Gov. Perry said. "While observing Veterans' Day this week, we cannot forget to support these brave Americans and their families when they return home by ensuring they have access to the health care and benefits promised when they made their own promise to defend this nation, and by ensuring a seamless transition to civilian life and providing any support they need."
The governor is working with the Legislature and the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to secure an additional $5 million to supplement the $1.2 million from the state budget to expand mental health treatment and support programs for veterans and their families.
To address the challenges faced by veterans seeking mental health treatment, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) will expand their existing programs to cater to veterans' immediate needs. Family education and support programs will be modeled after Operation Enduring Families and the SAFE (Support And Family Education) Program, both of which have proven successful in other parts of the country.
"Our veterans have sacrificed to protect our nation," DSHS Commissioner David Lakey said. "The mental health challenges some veterans face after combat are serious, and can be life threatening. Our agency is honored to be part of an expanding effort to better meet those needs. Our veterans deserve nothing less."
Gov. Perry has also directed the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) and DSHS to establish veteran-to-veteran (V2V) support groups across the state. These V2V groups help veterans by allowing them to share their experiences with fellow veterans.
"No one is better suited to give support to our veterans than other veterans," Rep. Frank Corte said. "Their unique experiences are a valuable resource which will help us in our efforts to serve the needs of those who have so willingly served us."
V2V groups will focus on the Texas National Guard and will be led by veterans trained as facilitators or mental health professionals. Senate Bill 1325, by Sen. Jane Nelson and Rep. Corte, requires DSHS to create a mental health program for veterans that includes V2V groups.
"Veterans struggling with the psychological wounds of war are more likely to seek assistance if that support comes from another veteran," Sen. Jane Nelson said. "Our legislation sets up a framework for former military personnel to volunteer their time to help ease the burden of those facing emotional challenges. We have outstanding, service-minded veterans in Texas who, with the right training, can make a positive impact in the lives of their peers and help them readjust."
Gov. Perry has also directed DSHS to recruit and train volunteers and practitioners to provide mental health support to veterans. The state will partner with organizations such as Give an Hour, a nonprofit organization that develops volunteer networks to meet the mental health needs of troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families. DSHS and TVC will support the expansion of this program into Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Rio Grande Valley (Brownsville), Fort Bliss in El Paso and Fort Hood in Killeen in the next year.
"Our men and women in the military have given much for us, now we must do all we can for them," Sen. Leticia Van de Putte said. "In this troubled time, our soldiers have served repeated deployments around the globe, placing an incredible amount of emotional strain on military families. This effort will help both those who serve and those who wait and pray for their loved ones return."
DSHS will also provide funds to the Texas A&M Health Science Center for improving the TexVet Web site, http://www.texvet.com/, which will provide veterans with screening resources and information regarding potential eligibility for federal, state and local benefits. DSHS will ensure coordination between 2-1-1, TexVet, and other state agencies such as TVC, and will expand the availability of veteran information through 2-1-1.
Summary of initiatives:
· $6.2 million expansion of existing mental health programs for veterans.
· Expansion of the number of programs available to meet the needs of families of veterans in addition to programs for veterans.
· Establishment of veteran-to-veteran support groups across the state coordinated by TVC and DSHS.
· Recruiting and training volunteers and practitioners for veterans' mental health support.
· Upgrading http://www.texvet.com/ to include resources and information on veterans' benefits and coordination between agencies that provide veterans' services.