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VA plan would give every service member mental health benefits after leaving military

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Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin announced Tuesday that the VA will send President Donald Trump a plan this week that would give every service member mental health benefits when they leave the military.

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The plan follows President Trump’s executive order signed in January aimed at improving mental health resources for veterans.

“Suicide prevention is the top clinical priority,” said Shulkin.

PHOTO: VA Secretary David Shulkin, and President Donald Trump shake hands, before President Trump signs the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 in the East Room of the White House, on June 23, 2017.Cheriss May/Getty Images
VA Secretary David Shulkin, and President Donald Trump shake hands, before President Trump signs the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 in the East Room of the White House, on June 23, 2017.

In addition to this new plan, the VA has partnered with AMVETS, a congressionally-chartered veterans service organization, to create a new mental health initiative dubbed HEAL, which stands for health care, evaluation, advocacy, and legislation.

“AMVETS is making this investment to place a team of licensed healthcare experts on the front lines where American veterans have direct access to a clinician that can guide them through the maze of the VA healthcare system,” said AMVETS national executive director Joe Chenally.

One of the first investments for AMVETS was hiring the organization’s first chief medical executive, Lana McKenzie.

McKenzie said the program will extend services to all veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and those who are at a high risk for suicide.

“First, we will facilitate access to appropriate mental health screenings and treatment plans to ensure they include proper follow-up,” said McKenzie. “Second, we will use public forums, roundtables, and town hall meetings to raise awareness in local communities around the country.”

She estimated that about 320,000 veterans incur some degree of TBI during service and that 20 veterans take their lives every day.

The cost for the HEAL program comes from hiring licensed professionals to join the team and is partly paid by corporations invested in AMVETS.

On March 19th, a toll-free number will be available for veterans and their family members to access the HEAL program.

That number is 1-833-VET-HEAL, and the corresponding e-mail address is vetheal@amvet.org.



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