DANVILLE — More than a dozen new mental health professionals have recently started their work in new positions throughout the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System as part of a nationwide goal to improve veterans' access to mental health care.
Doug Shouse, spokesperson for the VA Illiana Health Care System, said five of the 13 new hires are working out of the system's clinics in Peoria, West Lafayette, Ind., and Decatur, but the rest are based at the Danville campus, 1900 E. Main St.
He said the positions include social workers who help veterans struggling with homelessness or substance abuse, and the rest of the positions are psychiatrists and psychologists.
"I am proud of the hard work our staff has completed to bring these new staff members on board," Emma Metcalf, director of VA Illiana Health Care System, said in a news release Wednesday. "We are not slowing our efforts, however, and will continue to actively recruit for any vacant mental health positions for the future so veterans will get the care they need. Our goal is to not only provide access to care, but integrate mental health services with other clinical programs and services."
Nationwide, the VA has hired 1,600 new mental health professionals to increase access to mental health services for veterans, service members and military families.
The VA provides comprehensive mental health services across the United States, according to a VA news release, and in 2012, more than 1.3 million veterans received specialized mental health care from the VA. That number has increased each year since 2006 when 927,052 received mental health services.
In addition to hiring more mental health professionals, VA has also increased the number of Vet Centers that provide readjustment counseling and referral services from 233 in 2008 to 300 in 2012. In November 2011, VA also launched a national public awareness campaign, called Make the Connection, to reduce the stigma of seeking mental health care and to inform veterans, their families, friends and communities about VA resources.
Shouse said the goal is to better serve veterans needing mental health services by ensuring they receive services in a timely manner, but it's also about being more proactive and reaching out to make sure veterans come in to receive services from a mental health professional before they have a serious need.
"We want to make sure that care is being managed as soon as possible. Suicide is a big issue not only with veterans but in the military, so we are very proactive and want to be there and reach out," Shouse said.
Veterans and their families interested in learning more about the mental health services provided by VA can go to http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov. More information about the department's public awareness campaign, Make the Connection, can be found at http://www.maketheconnection.net. And mental health professionals interested in seeking employment with the Department of Veterans Affairs can go to http://www.vacareers.va.gov.