Governor Steve Beshear today announced that a team of Kentuckians will work to find better ways to help military service members, veterans and their families with substance abuse and mental health challenges.
"When those who have sacrificed so much already need help with substance abuse or mental health issues, we have to be ready with resources to support them as they heal," said Gov. Beshear. "The team is expected to develop recommendations on how best to make that help available for the military and veteran families who need it."
Kentuckians representing various areas of military or health care expertise will work with officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Representatives will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to work 2½ days with similar groups from several other states in a program known as the Service Members, Veterans and Families Policy Academy.
The group's work will examine what has worked elsewhere and strategies that show the most promise for improving the lives of military and veteran families in Kentucky. Its goal is to strengthen statewide behavioral health care systems and services through ongoing support between local, state and federal agencies and officials.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the number of Veterans seeking mental health care has increased dramatically over the past three years.
The VA estimates about 335,000 veterans live in Kentucky. Including dependents, the number is about 600,000. That is in addition to approximately 45,000 active-duty military personnel in Kentucky and about 8,400 members of the Kentucky Army National Guard and Kentucky Air National Guard.
Task force members include Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini, Kentucky adjutant general; retired Col. David Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs; Rep. John Tilley; representatives from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, military and civilian health facilities and the Kentucky court system.
"We are fortunate to have such a diverse statewide inter-agency team representing the Commonwealth to participate in a policy academy focused on the substance abuse and mental health issues of service members, veterans and their families," Col. Thompson said. "This is an extremely important and timely topic that requires collaboration across federal, state and local lines. We are grateful to be teamed with the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in strengthening Kentucky's behavioral health care system for those who serve or have served our country in uniform, and those families that endure the sacrifices that go along with military service."
"I think Kentucky does a good job when it comes to helping those in the military in these areas, but there is always room for improvement," Rep. Tilley said. "This academy can cover a tremendous amount of ground in a short amount of time, helping us learn from other states' success and failures. The end result will be a better system for all who depend on it."
Gov. Beshear has been a longtime advocate for Kentucky's active duty military service members and families as well as for veterans.
He signed legislation expanding the Military Family Assistance Trust Fund to cover more deployment-related hardship expenses. He also signed legislation requiring that those charged with a crime be asked if they have served in combat and be provided access to counseling. And under his leadership, the state joined a program providing free counseling services to veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and their family members.
In addition, Gov. Beshear instituted a preference to veterans in state government hiring. Finally, his administration announced the purchase of land for and opened its fourth state veterans cemetery.
The First Lady has also supported active duty service members by organizing the Military Spouse Task Team, the first group of its kind in the country. The group identifies issues important to military families, recommends solutions, and educates military families about resources available to them in Kentucky.