Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), along with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), today announced that the Fargo Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care System will receive $8.5 million in federal funding to offer expanded mental health services to Fargo-area veterans.
The senators said the War on Terror and other foreign operations have created the need for additional resources to accommodate veterans dealing with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other battle-related mental health issues. In response, Congress helped to address the need with increased funding in Fiscal Year 2013 for a range of mental health services at VA facilities across the nation, including Fargo.
The Fargo VA facility provides a wide range of programs for suicide prevention, as well as therapy and treatment options for veterans suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
* The Suicide Prevention Program is designed to assist veterans struggling with suicidal thoughts and to reduce the incidence of suicide. The Fargo facility has on staff a full-time suicide prevention coordinator who coordinates a range of suicide prevention programs, including education and outreach, rapid response connected to a veteran crisis telephone line and direct counseling.
* The Posttraumatic Stress Recovery Program is designed to assist veterans who have experienced traumatic events or severe stress while serving in the military. The primary goal is to help veterans cope with immediate and long-term consequences from experiencing a traumatic life event. That includes programs to help veterans with depression, anger management, substance abuse and sleep management. The center also offers a program designed to help family members become acquainted with symptoms, the effects on relationships, and treatment options available The Fargo facility is staffed with two full-time psychologists who are experts in treating PTSD.
Hoeven, who serves on the U.S. Senate Appropriations Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, has pushed for additional federal support for mental health services, as well as programs to educate service members, their families, and the public about PTSD. Hoeven promoted the subcommittee's appropriations bill for fiscal year 2013, which provided substantial increases in funding for veterans' medical care, including mental health programs, PTSD, and suicide prevention. Hoeven and Klobuchar were also cosponsors of a resolution that designated June 27 as "National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day," which passed the Senate on May 10, 2012.
Klobuchar has long fought to ensure veterans have the resources and support they need. She introduced the Veterans Access to Care Act, which is designed to provide incentives to help VA facilities hire more medical personnel. Klobuchar also recently urged the Pentagon to keep TRICARE Prime services for veterans who live far away from major cities and bases.
"We have worked hard to ensure that our veterans hospitals have the funding and resources they need to treat the health challenges faced by our veterans, including the wounds, like PTSD, suicide and other mental health issues, that aren't always visible," Hoeven said. "Our military men and women have served in the most dedicated and demanding way, risking life and limb on our behalf, and one of the best ways we can say thank you is by addressing their needs, both physical and psychological, when they come home."
"There wasn't a waiting line when our men and women in uniform raised their right hands and volunteered to serve our country, and there shouldn't be a waiting line when they return home and need our support, whether it's finding a job or accessing quality health care, including critical mental health services," Klobuchar said. "This investment in the Fargo VA medical center is one way we can help fulfill our promise to our veterans, and I will continue to work to ensure they have the resources and support they need and deserve."
In July, 2011, Hoeven hosted VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on a trip to North Dakota after Hoeven invited him during an Appropriations subcommittee meeting. They toured the Gladys Ray Veterans Drop-In Center and met with local veterans and service organizations, seeking feedback regarding the quality of care, both physical and mental, that veterans are receiving.
The Shinseki tour also included recently opened treatment suites that increased the number of intake, exam and procedure rooms and offer services including surgery, audiology, eye care, and ear, nose and throat care. The Senators met with staff and patients and discussed the needs of the Fargo facility and the kinds of solutions that will meet the needs of veterans.
Additionally, Hoeven and Klobuchar have worked to help veterans transition from the military to civilian life and avoid the risk of homelessness, which is often a consequence of mental illness. Both senators are founding members of the bipartisan Senate Veterans Jobs Caucus, a group that works to address veteran unemployment through, for instance, the "I Hire Veterans" initiative, which encourages employers to hire veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fargo is a general medical, surgical, and psychiatry facility with 39 medical and surgical and 38 community living center beds. The Fargo VA Health Care System offers medical services to about 89,000 veterans residing in North Dakota, northwestern Minnesota and northeastern South Dakota. Last year, the facility served the nearly 31,000 different patients. In recent months, the Fargo VA has experienced a medical service provider shortage, resulting in reduced operational bed availability.