Today, Governor Susana Martinez announced a new state effort to provide free counseling and therapy services to veterans returning home from tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hot spots related to the Global War on Terror. This statewide initiative, spearheaded by the state's Counseling and Therapy Practice Board, the Board of Social Work Examiners, and the Board of Psychologist Examiners, encourages state health care institutions, licensed counselors, and therapists to provide returning veterans with free mental health counseling and therapy services for up to one year after they return from service.
The effort aims to enroll mental health professionals throughout the state by early next year as New Mexico and the rest of the nation welcomes home more men and women returning from Afghanistan and elsewhere as part of an accelerated troop draw-down from operations related to the eleven-year Global War on Terror. The U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) believes that about 15 percent veterans who have served during this campaign may be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) recently announced plans to hire 1,900 mental health professionals nationwide in order to provide help for any returning military personnel who may be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which the VA believes could be affecting up to 25% of GWOT veterans. But this may be too little and could take a couple of years for the plan to take place.
"Our veterans deserve all the help we can provide them as they return from their tours of duty," said Governor Martinez. "These men and women put their lives on the line for our safety and freedom. We owe them every possible effort to make the transition from combat to life at home."
The Regulation and Licensing Department, which administratively oversees the three boards leading this effort, will send a letter to mental health professionals throughout the state asking them to enroll as a provider. The letter asks health professionals to agree to provide volunteer services for a minimum of one year to a returning veteran or his/her family. The letter also asks that the volunteer's counseling and therapy license is active and in good standing.
"I'm asking our behavioral health professionals to make a proactive, collaborative effort to provide needed services to our returning veterans," added Governor Martinez. "PTSD can affect far too many of our soldiers who fought for their country overseas. We need to act quickly to reach out to this generation of heroes. They need our help and the state will make every effort to ensure that mental health services are in place."
According to the VA, nearly 2.1 million Americans have served in the U.S. Armed Forces since the Global War on Terror commenced shortly after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. No data is available yet about how many New Mexicans have served, but according to the VA, more than 50,000 New Mexicans have served in the military since the Gulf War. Many have served multiple tours of combat duty, which according to mental health experts greatly increases the risk of developing PTSD.